By Alice G. Walton | Forbes, 8/8/13
There’s nothing much more alluring than a headline touting the health benefits of chocolate — and if they have to do with protecting the brain, most of us are sold. There’s been a lot of research in this area, with some studies strongly suggesting that compounds in cocoa may reduce the risk for age-related cognitive decline, or, possibly, even reverse it once it occurs. The problem is that no one can quite pin down why it might be good for the brain, though certain mechanisms are good candidates. Now, a new study in Neurology goes a little further in teasing apart the mechanisms that may be involved in the chocolate-brain relationship. And though the researchers aren’t recommending we all increase our cocoa consumption just yet, there do appear to be certain compounds in cocoa that are worth paying attention to.
In the new study, the team from Harvard randomly assigned 60 elderly people to drink two cups of flavanol-rich or flavanol-poor cocoa every day for a month. Flavanols are a type of polyphenol — antioxidants found in foods like cocoa, tea, berries, and wine. Foods rich in these compounds have been shown to benefit heart and brain health in the past. The problem with many earlier studies is that they’ve asked people to recall their intake of the various foods over the years, which can be unreliable, rather than randomly assigning them to eat specific foods in the present.