Eating chocolate extract may reduce chance of cognitive decline linked to dementia, NIH-funded study hints

Eating chocolate may slow cognitive decline in people at high risk of dementia, a government-funded study suggests.

Researchers at Mass General Brigham Hospital in Boston gave 500 milligrams of cocoa extract supplements – a handful of squares of dark chocolate – to nearly 600 adults over the age of 60 every day for two years.

The participants also underwent a series of cognitive and psychological tests before and after the trial.

Those with a poor diet – which has been shown to increase the risk of dementia – scored better on memory tests than those in the placebo group.

Researchers found that although cocoa extract did not improve cognitive function in older adults, it did show small improvements in older adults with poor diets.

Cognitive decline is the gradual deterioration of memory and thinking, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulty completing tasks. It often occurs as a result of aging, so fighting it in old age can reduce the risk of developing degenerative conditions such as dementia.

However, those who already had a diet full of healthy fruits and vegetables showed no 'statistically significant' improvements in cognitive function compared to the placebo group.

Flavanols are a natural compound found in foods such as cocoa, berries, kale, onions and tea.

These nutrients are believed to contain antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, which have historically been linked to a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, because they reduce inflammation in the brain.

Cocoa in particular contains the flavanol epicatechin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and degeneration in the brain.

Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols and contains approximately 170 milligrams per 100 grams, while milk chocolate contains 75 milligrams per 100 grams. This is because dark chocolate contains more cocoa, the seed from which cocoa is made.

The research team evaluated the effect of cocoa extract on 573 adults over the age of 60. The average age was 70 years. Men made up 51 percent of the population, while women made up the remaining 49 percent.

About half, 285, of the participants took cocoa extract supplements of 500 milligrams, including 80 milligrams of epicatechin, while 288 participants received a placebo.

The groups were evaluated to see if cocoa extract would improve overall cognitive function, executive function and episodic memory – memories of a specific event.

Participants completed 11 personal cognitive and psychological tests, as well as food questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study period.

The team found that compared to the placebo, those who took cocoa extract had “no statistically significant benefit on global cognition over two years.”

However, they said that 'a subgroup analysis showed suggestive benefits for cognitive function in people with poorer usual diet quality at baseline', including improvements in episodic memory.

“Lower diet quality” was not defined, but in general, eating plans filled with fat, salt, sugar and ultra-processed foods are considered of lower quality and have been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline, diabetes, heart disease and heart disease. cancer.

The team stated that more research is still needed to determine whether larger doses of cocoa extract could improve cognitive function.

The study flies in the face of other recent evidence suggesting that flavanols in cocoa could improve memory and reduce the risk of developing dementia.

A study published in May in the journal PNAS Neuroscience found that 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols slowed and improved age-related mental decline, which is not as severe as disorders such as dementia.

Furthermore, another study found that flavanols improve the results of learning tasks in adults aged 50 to 75.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and candy companies Nestlé-Purina Petcare Company and Mars Edge.

The research was published on Thursday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.