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Hot cocoa connected to sharper brain function

Research from the U.S. finds two cups of hot cocoa each day boosts brain performance but cautions that indulging in chocolate is not the best idea


Boston, Mass. – Research from Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has found that hot cocoa may be what the brain needs to stay sharp.

The researchers’ study found that older adults who drank two cups of hot cocoa every day for one month performed better on thinking and memory tests than those who didn’t drink hot cocoa, reports CBSNews.com.

Brain imaging showed that the cocoa-drinkers had better blood flow in the brain, which, says CBSNews.com, reflects a growing body of evidence that blood flow in the brain impacts thinking and memory.

Brain effects

The study involved 60 dementia-free people, with an average age of 73, and had them drink two cups of hot cocoa daily. The group was asked not to consume any other chocolate throughout the study.

After drinking hot cocoa for a month, Doppler brain scans revealed subjects with blood flow problems saw more than an eight per cent boost in their brain’s blood circulation to working areas of the brain. They also improved their times on memory tests, with their average scores dropping by more than 50 seconds at the end of the study.

People who had normal blood flow at the start of the study, however, did not see these benefits.

“The areas of your brain that are working need more fuel,” study author Dr. Farzaneh Sorond told ABCNews.go.com.

She explains “neurovascular coupling” is a phenomenon that refers to the intimate link between better blood flow and improved neuronal activity.

In people with impaired blood flow, she says, “cocoa may be beneficial by delivering more fuel.”

Chocolate’s benefits

CBSNews.com reports that previous research has found that chocolate can carry vascular health benefits, especially dark chocolate.

It’s often dark chocolate that is linked to reduced blood pressure, lower risk for stroke, better cholesterol levels and even benefits in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition in which people have difficulties with memory and are at raised risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

While more research is needed, says ABCNews.go.com, antioxidants and caffeine may certainly play a role. But there’s also the possibility that chocolate just makes us feel good.

The researchers also caution that indulging in chocolate wouldn’t be prudent.

“The people who need this the most,” says Sorond, meaning people with diabetes, high blood pressure and tendencies toward vascular dementia, “can’t really afford to take in more sugar, fat and calories.”

ABCNews.go.com also adds that even if the link between chocolate and sharper thinking holds up, chocolate wouldn’t be the only way to maintain a healthy brain and circulatory system. A healthy diet and exercise can also boost blood flow to the brain.