It’s getting cold outside and a hot cup of cocoa goes great with a warm fire. But could that winter comfort drink be a solution to one of the biggest problems plaguing today’s elderly? A recent study published in Neurology suggest having two cups of hot cocoa each day could help prevent the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School say hot cocoa works by increasing blood flow to the brain, particularly areas of the brain associated with memory and cognition. They believe it works by increasing something called neurovascular coupling, where blood flow actually changes in response to local brain activity.
In the study, 60 people with an average age of 73 years and no detectable markers for Alzheimer’s disease, were given two cups of hot cocoa each day for a period of 30 days. During that time they consumed no other chocolate. Then, the participants took memory and thinking skills tests as well as ultrasounds to determine blood flow levels.
“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow,” explained the study’s lead researcher Dr. Farzaneh Sorond. “This relationship called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
At the beginning of the study 18 participants had impaired blood flow to the brain, of which 8.3 percent experienced significant improvement by the end of the 30 day period. They also experienced improvement in memory tests, with their speed dropping from 167 seconds to 116 seconds over the study period.
The researchers concluded:
“There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments. Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity.”
The authors didn’t mention the cocoa content of the chocolate used in the hot beverage. Previous research has shown the best benefits of chocolate consumption are obtained with cocoa levels over 70 percent.
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