Drinking hot chocolate may help keep brain healthy

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th August 2013

Drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help older people keep their brains health and their thinking skills sharp, according to a study published recently in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (7 August 2013).

The study, undertaken by researchers from the Harvard Medical School in Boston, involved 60 people with an average age of 73 who did not have dementia. The participants drank two cups of hot cocoa per day for 30 days and did not consume any other chocolate during the study. Researchers then tested their memory and thinking skills, and used ultrasounds to measure the amount of blood flow to the brain during the tests.

“We’re learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effects on thinking skills,” said Farzaneh A. Sorond MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. “As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Hot chocolate improved blood flow for those with impaired

Of the 60 participants, 18 had impaired blood flow at the start of the study. Researchers said those people had an 8.3 per cent improvement in the blood flow to the working areas of the brain by the end of the study, while there was no improvement for people who started out with regular blood flow.

The people with impaired blood flow at the start of the study also improved their times on a test of working memory, with scores dropping from 167 seconds at the beginning of the study to 116 seconds at the end. Again, there was no change in times for people with regular blood flow at the start.

People with impaired blood flow more likely to have areas of brain damage

A total of 24 of the participants also had MRI scans of the brain to look for tiny areas of brain damage. The scans found that people with impaired blood flow were also more likely to have these areas of brain damage.

Antioxidant level of chocolate made no difference

The researchers said half the study participants received hot cocoa that was rich in the antioxidant flavanol, while the other half received flavanol-poor hot cocoa. There were no differences in the results of the two groups.

“More work is needed to prove a link between cocoa, blood flow problems and cognitive decline,” said Paul B. Rosenberg, MD, of John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “But this is an important first step that could guide future studies,” he said.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Ageing and the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The cocoa was provided by Mars Inc.