Cocoa extract may improve cognitive function in older adults

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A new study suggests that daily supplements of cocoa extract may improve cognitive performance in older adults who eat a poor-quality diet.John Seton Callahan/Getty Images
  • A new randomized controlled trial shows that daily supplementation with cocoa extract can improve cognitive health in older adults who eat a poor-quality diet.
  • The authors observed that cocoa extract did not confer cognitive benefits on older adults who regularly consumed a high-quality diet.
  • Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which may relieve oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • More research is still needed on the potential cognitive benefits of cocoa.

A recent study suggests that daily intake of cocoa extract may promote cognitive health in older adults who habitually eat a poor-quality diet.

Overall, no cognitive benefits from daily doses of cocoa extract were observed among participants in the study.

However, the study authors reported marginal trends among individuals with poorer diet quality.

Study participants were the clinical cohort of the Cocoa Supplementation and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a randomized clinical trial (RTC) conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

The larger trial, involving 21,442 older Americans, examined the cognitive benefits of a daily cocoa extract supplement and the benefits of a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The research was funded in part by Mars Edge, the nutrition research arm of Mars Incorporated. Other funders include the National Institutes of Health, FDA, Harvard Catalyst, Contract Pharmacal Corp and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare.

The research results were published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The authors say research on cocoa’s effects on cognitive health is inconsistent.

This study’s small impact on low-quality diet groups suggests directions for further research.

The study involved 573 older adults with an average age of 69.6 years. Of this group, 49.2% are women.

Each participant received a comprehensive cognitive assessment at the beginning of the study and subsequent testing over the next two years.

Some people in the study supplemented with 500 milligrams of cocoa extract per day, which included 80 milligrams of the antioxidant epicatechin, while the control group took a placebo.

A total of 492 people completed the two-year assessment.

For the group as a whole, no cognitive improvements were observed after two years, specifically overall cognition, episodic memory, executive function, or attention in those who received the cocoa supplement compared with those who took a placebo.

Cocoa is rich in flavanols, a subtype of flavonoids, natural compounds found in plants as well as fruits and vegetables.

Chirag M. Vyas, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said: “Our trial results reveal who cocoa extract may have cognitive benefits.

The study did not specify the mechanism by which flavanols may have beneficial cognitive effects on cognition in people with poor diets, but Dr. Vyas raised a hypothesis: Cocoa flavanols may enhance poor diets by reducing oxidative stress. Cognitive functional outcomes and inflammation in older adults.

Research has connect This is an unhealthy diet for older adults who have elevated levels of oxidative stress and systemic inflammatory processes associated with cognitive aging.

Dr. Vyas speculates that consuming cocoa flavanols may reduce such cognitive stress and may also modulate other neuroprotective mechanisms.

A Trial 2021 Beneficial effects of cocoa flavonoids on cognitive aging were observed during a 12-week follow-up period.

Nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrick, who was not involved in the study, tells us motor neurons: I recommend [clients] To obtain large amounts of flavonoids and other plant compounds, cocoa is often recommended [and] Dark chocolate is a great choice with plenty of culinary versatility.

Dr. Vyas said further research is needed to clarify the subtle associations observed in the study.

As for whether there is a difference between cocoa extract and cocoa or chocolate, Dr. Vyas responded that there is no easy answer to this question.

He said the specific effects of cocoa extract, cocoa powder and chocolate on cognitive health may differ due to differences in their composition.

For example, cocoa extract is obtained by isolating specific compounds from the cocoa beans and may concentrate cognitively beneficial elements, while cocoa powder is produced by grinding roasted cocoa beans and retains some natural compounds. But the concentration may be lower.

Although the COSMOS cocoa extract supplement contains all of the natural bioactive compounds of the cocoa bean, we were not able to test the cognitive benefits of different formulations, individual components of cocoa extract, or different levels of cocoa flavanols in this trial.

Chirag M. Vyas, Ph.D., first study author

If a person is interested in the benefits of the flavonoids in cocoa beans, Kirkpatrick says, consume 75 percent or more dark chocolate, or use pure cocoa in everyday meals and snacks, adding it to oatmeal, Apple, etc., can meet this demand.

Kirkpatrick said pure raw cocoa typically doesn’t have any added sugar or fat, so consumers should look for 100 percent cocoa.

Cocoa has many uses such as [being] Mix it into yogurt, or make recipes like chocolate mousse, she adds.

Dr. Vyas said he was hesitant to recommend cocoa for cognitive enhancement.

“Our trial results suggest that cocoa extract supplements in older adults do not confer overall cognitive benefits,” he said.

While research has found that consuming cocoa may have potential benefits for older adults who don’t adhere to a healthy, balanced diet, he’s not yet eager to promise meaningful benefits.

Despite these potential findings, further research is needed to gain a deeper understanding of the effects of cocoa flavanols on cognition, particularly in more diverse populations and individuals with poorer diet quality.

Chirag M. Vyas, Ph.D., first study author

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