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Manufactured Cocoa Flavanols May Improve Cognitive Function

Flavanols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in chocolate and some fruits. A recent study suggests that consuming safe cocoa flavanols - a special type of flavanol that is produced in a lab and is not found naturally in chocolate - may help improve cognitive function.

Participants in the study included 90 mature adults between the ages of 61 and 80 with no evidence of cognitive dysfunction. Over the course of eight weeks they took part in one of three interventions:

1. high flavanol count (993 mg);

2. intermediate flavanol count (520 mg);

3. low flavanol count (48 mg).

In order to gauge changes in cognitive function, the researchers conducted a mini-mental state examination (MMSE), two trail-making tests, and a verbal fluency test (VFT) at the onset and conclusion of the study. They also measured insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation.

The researchers noted that the low dose group had significantly worse performance on the trail-making test when compared with both the intermediate and the high dose group. They also noted improvements in verbal fluency across all three groups, with the high and intermediate dose groups showing the greatest improvements. However, there were no changes between the groups on the MMSE.

The high and intermediate dose groups also showed improvements in insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation when compared with the low dose group. The researchers noted this is the second time they’ve observed a correlation between improved insulin sensitivity, flavanols and improved cognitive function but cautioned that more research is needed.

Researchers from the University of L’Aquila, Italy conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print in the February, 2015 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Flavonols are the naturally occurring antioxidants found in cocoa which have previously been shown to decrease inflammation, protect DNA from damage and improve heart and brain health by increasing blood flow.

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