Dark Chocolate Boosts Elderly Brains

Here’s some science I can get behind: a recent study shows that the consumption of dark chocolate and red wine may improve cognitive function in older adults.  Senior caregivers can now have a positive reason to share chocolates with seniors.

Flavanol consumption is favorably associated with cognitive function, according to The Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study conducted by lead researcher Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, director of the geriatric division in the department of Life, Health, and Environmental Sciences at the University of L'Aquila, Italy, and published online in the August 14 issue of the American Heart Association journal, Hypertension.

In the study, 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment consumed drinks containing high, medium and low milligrams of cocoa flavenols once daily for 8 weeks. Their results showed a marked difference in brain function, with those who consumed the highest amounts of flavenols scoring higher in verbal fluency and eye-hand coordination. The study was funded by the candy-bar company, Mars, Inc.

If the findings are true, implications could be widespread. Mayo Clinic researchers have found that mild cognitive impairment is prevalent among the elderly and increases with age. According to Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., “12 percent to 20 percent of the entire population of those over age 70 may have either mild cognitive impairment or dementia, which is quite significant.”

In addition to the recent research, flavanols have been shown to provide a variety of benefits, including improving high blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and improving insulin resistance.

Although dark chocolate’s benefits are many, those suffering with obesity or borderline diabetes should find their flavenols from other sources like broccoli, grapes, apples and tea.

Not all researchers are on board with the findings. According to US News and World Report’s HealthDay reporter Steven Reinberg, when asked, Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said that "the study is interesting but requires replication before it can be taken seriously."

I’ll take my chances and begin to include reasonable amounts of dark chocolate and red wine (along with other flavenol-rich foods, of course) into my diet in my effort to age well.

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