Cocoa May Improve Mental and Physical Health

Prof. Giovambattista Desideri Università degli Studi dell'Aquila Direttore  UOC Geriatria e Lungodegenza Geriatrica Scuola di Specializzazione in Geriatria Scuola di Specializzazione in Medicina d' Interview with:
Prof. Giovambattista Desideri
Università degli Studi dell’Aquila
Direttore  UOC Geriatria e Lungodegenza Geriatrica
Scuola di Specializzazione in Geriatria
Scuola di Specializzazione in Medicina d’Emergenza-Urgenza

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Desideri: Over the past decade, there has been an accumulating body of evidence that indicates that the consumption of cocoa flavanol-containing products can improve vascular function. Though much research has focused on the cardiovascular system, there is reason to believe that some of the benefits of cocoa flavanol consumption could extend also to the brain which is a heavily vascularized tissue that depends on regular blood flow to meet its metabolic demands. Thus, the current study tested the hypothesis that the regular inclusion of cocoa flavanols for 8 weeks could positively affect cognitive function in cognitively-intact older adults. The effects of cocoa flavanol ingestion on various cardiometabolic endpoints, including blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, were also evaluated given consistent evidence of positive effects of flavanols on these outcomes and the potentially influential role of these outcomes on cognitive function.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Desideri:The study enrolled 90 men and women aged 61-85 years with no evidence of cognitive dysfunction who were assigned to one of three flavanol groups, consuming a drink containing high (993 mg), intermediate ( 520 mg) or low (48 mg) amounts of cocoa flavanols every day for 8 weeks. Among those individuals who regularly consumed either the high-or intermediate-flavanol drinks, there were significant improvements in some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction.  In the high- and intermediate-flavanol groups, both systolic and diastolic blood pressures were reduced and insulin resistance was significantly improved.   It is not yet fully understood how cocoa flavanols bring about improvements in cognitive function, but the study results suggest that the improvements in insulin resistance and blood pressure could be revealing.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Desideri: This study demonstrates that the regular inclusion of cocoa flavanols in the diet can lead to improvements in specific aspects of cognitive function among older adults with no  evidence of cognitive function. This finding provides promising evidence to support the important role of diet, and specific bioactives in the diet, in maintaining and improving cognitive function, particularly as we age.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Desideri: It is clear from our latest research and other recent studies that cocoa flavanols could have profound effects on the brain function. Further studies are needed to evaluated how cocoa flavanols work and how long the effects last. If these further studies confirm the findings that brain health can be improved by consuming dietary flavanols, it may have the potential to affect the daily lives of a lot of people world-wide.


Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial
Daniela Mastroiacovo, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, Davide Grassi, Stefano Necozione, Angelo Raffaele, Luana Pistacchio, Roberta Righetti, Raffaella Bocale, Maria Carmela Lechiara, Carmine Marini, Claudio Ferri, and Giovambattista Desideri

Am J Clin Nutr 2015 ajcn.092189; First published online December 17, 2014. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.092189



Last Updated on December 22, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD