Research published by the American Heart Association journal Hypertension suggests that dietary flavanols found, in this case, in cocoa could improve cognitive function. Flavanols are a natural component of tea, grapes, red wine and apples, and have been shown to protect nerve cells.
The study, conducted by the University of L’Aquila in Italy, tested a cocoa drink, containing different levels of flavanols, on 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment. After eight weeks the results showed an improvement in motor responses, working memory, verbal memory and task-switching in those drinking the high-level flavanol cocoa. Overall, cognitive scores were higher in those taking higher levels of flavanol compared to participants on lower levels.
The UK's Alzheimer’s Society has responded by highlighting the need for ‘larger, longer-term studies’ being carried out before firm conclusions can be made on flavanol rich foods having significant benefits.