Flavanols or Flavan-3-ol are an alcoholic chemical compound which occurs naturally in tea and cocoa and is also produced synthetically. An article published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition provides a review of multiple studies which focused on linking the cognitive performance with Chocolate (flavanol) consumption. Here we provide some highlights.
Flavanol content guide
Regular consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa drinks improves cognitive performances in the elderly with or without memory decline. A quantitative study of low (48 mg), intermediate (520 mg) and high (993 mg) flavanol consumption for a period of 8 weeks revealed proportional improvements in the verbal task, processing speed, executive function, and working memory in the subjects. In another study which involved a 10-min task battery administered in six consecutive repetitions, comprising of a serial subtraction task and a rapid visual information processing task using 30 adults with similar test groups it was found that flavanol significantly improved working memory. Not only the cognitive functions but improvements were also observed in reducing insulin resistance, suggesting some role of Flavanol in endothelial functions and glucose sensitivity.
A possible mechanism for this improvement is the fact that flavanol increases nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability. NO happens to be the vital regulator of vascular function, improving the blood pressure regulation and vascular tone. These changes although peripheral but can be extended to the brain’s cerebrovascular system as well and thereby improve the overall functionality of the brain especially memory. A high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that in subjects with a higher concentration of flavanol an increased cerebral blood volume was observed in the dentate gyrus (part of the hippocampus), a structure which is generally affected by ageing and potentially implicated in age-related memory loss.
Role of Nitric Oxide in Cardiovascular functions
The evidence overwhelmingly points out that consumption of flavanols benefits cognitive performances, not just in healthy subjects but even otherwise. Also, it is important to note that 8 weeks consumption is a relatively short period of time, given that it suggests that flavanol is effective even for the shorter period of consumption, One may predict that the long-term consumption is therefore likely to have a more improved and sustained effect. But could it also have any adverse effect? This awaits further investigations.
While most of us enjoy chocolate (often called as heaven’s gift to man), we may now enjoy it even more given its multiple benefits. But it is important to keep in mind that chocolates are pretty high in calorie content and excessive calorie consumption on a daily basis is undesirable. Besides most products having cocoa also have some amount of caffeine in them (like coffee or chocolate), which is a psychoactive drug, whose side effects can range from nausea and vomiting to heart and respiratory defects.
Valentina Socci, Daniela Tempesta, Giovambattista Desideri, Luigi De Gennaro and Michele Ferrar Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids Frontiers in Nutrition May 2017