September 2013

Cocoa May Improve Cognitive Function in the Elderly

Brain activity, blood flow, and cognitive function may all be improved through regular cocoa consumption in elderly people, a study reports.

Researchers set out to determine whether neurovascular coupling and cognitive function may be related, and whether these factors may be impacted by the consumption of cocoa. Neurovascular coupling refers to the relationship between brain activity and resulting changes in blood flow.

Cocoa and chocolate are derived from the cacao bean (Theobroma cacao). Cacao is native to South America and has been grown in the tropics for at least 3,000 years. Today, the African country Ivory Coast is the largest supplier of raw cocoa. Cocoa products have been considered delicacies by many cultures.

Cocoa products have recently been recognized as a significant source of a number of compounds, such as flavonoids, that may have valuable health benefits. For this reason, and because it is so popular, chocolate is the focus of intense research. Chocolate has been studied to investigate its effectiveness in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including heart disease, skin conditions, and constipation. However, there is a lack of studies to support the use of chocolate to treat any conditions in humans.

In the current study, researchers recruited 60 people with an average age of 73 years. They reviewed the subjects' neurovascular coupling and cognition after 24 hours and 30 days of consuming cocoa. Cognition was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination and Trail Making Test A and B. The team also looked at the structural integrity of the participants' white matter.

The results suggested an association between higher neurovascular coupling and better structural integrity of white matter. Neurovascular coupling was also linked to better cognitive performance. The researchers found that 30 days of cocoa consumption appeared to increase neurovascular coupling and improved cognition overall.

The authors concluded that there appears to be a strong association between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and that both may be positively impacted by cocoa consumption. The study also links better neurovascular coupling to greater structural integrity of the white matter. However, more research is needed to better understand and confirm these findings.

For more information about cocoa, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Sorond FA, Hurwitz S, Salat DH, et al. Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people. Neurology. 2013 Sep 3;81(10):904-909. Epub 2013 Aug 7. 

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