Cocoa and your Brain
COCOA (DARK CHOCOLATE)
As I mature (my preferred description for aging), I spend more time wondering if cognitive decline is an inevitable part of “getting older” or should it be considered an early “pre-stage” of dementia. My personal goal is to have my health span equal or come close to my lifespan. With the rapid increase in the 65+, 85+ and 100+ population, it is essential that we find ways to slow, and preferably prevent, cognitive decline. A number of factors have been identified as contributing to brain aging: hypertension, obesity, diabetes, inadequate physical activity, poor diet, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, stress, environmental toxins (e.g. lead), and depression.
Numerous scientific studies suggest a neuroprotective effect of flavonoids, a type of polyphenol. Flavanols are a subclass of flavonoids. They are very common in grapes, tea, and cocoa products. Human studies have shown that the consumption of cocoa can improve insulin sensitivity (which lowers blood sugar) and reduce blood pressure, two risk factors which can lead to cognitive decline. Cocoa also causes vasodilation, which improves blood flow leading to increased brain blood flow (always a good thing). A 2012 human study confirmed that consumption of a drink enriched with cocoa flavanols improved cognitive function in elderly adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Desideri G et al. Hypertension 2012;60:794-801.
Because cocoa has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain (both 450 mg/day of cocoa flavanols and 993 mg/day of cocoa flavanols have been reported to have this effect)- Sorond FA et a. Neuoropsychiatr Dis Treat 2008;4:433-40. My favorite method of daily cocoa “consumption” is 8 ounces of vanilla soymilk microwaved for 45 seconds, add one packet of CocoaVia (which contains 375 mg of cocoa flavanols/packet), and honey “to taste” www.cocoavia.com . A 2015 study by Daniela Mastroiacovo concludes: “This dietary intervention study provides evidence that regular Cocoa Flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, possibly through an improvement in insulin sensitivity. These data suggest that the habitual intake of flavanols can support healthy cognitive function with age”. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;101:538-48.