Chocolate Can Protect Our Brains

Cocoa beans contain high concentrations of flavanols, which are naturally-occurring compounds that can protect our brains.

Jul. 25, 2017
By Sheherzad Preisler

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A research team based at Italy’s University of L’Aquila have pub­lished a new study that says cocoa beans con­tain high con­cen­tra­tions of fla­vanols, which are nat­u­rally-occur­ring com­pounds that can pro­tect our brains.

The team, whose find­ings were pub­lished in Frontiers in Nutrition, reviewed cur­rent sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture in the hopes of find­ing out if the sus­tained con­cen­tra­tions of cocoa fla­vanols found in reg­u­lar choco­late-eaters had any effect on the brain. What the team found was a breadth of tri­als in which par­tic­i­pants that reg­u­larly con­sumed choco­late processed visual infor­ma­tion bet­ter and had improved work­ing mem­o­ries.”

Furthermore, women who con­sumed cocoa after a sleep­less night saw a rever­sal of neg­a­tive side effects that come from sleep depri­va­tion, such as com­pro­mised task per­for­mance. This could be great for those who work par­tic­u­larly stress­ful jobs that com­pro­mise one’s sleep as well as those with recur­ring sleep issues.

Diets such as the Mediterranean diet encour­age the con­sump­tion of choco­late in mod­er­a­tion, and this study fur­ther sup­ports such sug­ges­tions.

However, the results should be taken with a grain of salt: the pos­i­tive effects from cocoa fla­vanols dif­fered based on the vari­ety of the men­tal tests. For young adults who were in good health, they needed a very intense cog­ni­tion test to expose cocoa’s imme­di­ate ben­e­fits.


Most research on this sub­ject to date gen­er­ally involves elderly pop­u­la­tions who have con­sumed cocoa fla­vanols from any­where between five days and three months. For this pop­u­la­tion, daily con­sump­tion of cocoa fla­vanols had the most pos­i­tive pro­found effect on their cog­ni­tion, improv­ing their ver­bal flu­ency, pro­cess­ing speed, and atten­tion span.

The ben­e­fits were most notice­able in sub­jects whose cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties had minor dam­age or whose mem­o­ries had pre­vi­ously begun to decline.

In the paper, lead authors Michele Ferrara and Valentina Socci wrote, The cocoa fla­vanols have ben­e­fi­cial effects for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and can increase cere­bral blood vol­ume in the den­tate gyrus of the hip­pocam­pus. This struc­ture is par­tic­u­larly affected by aging and there­fore the poten­tial source of age-related mem­ory decline in humans.”

So, have the sci­en­tists them­selves started indulging in some daily choco­late?

Dark choco­late is a rich source of fla­vanols,” they explained. So we always eat some dark choco­late. Every day.” But don’t for­get that even dark choco­late can have high caloric value, espe­cially when mixed with com­mon addi­tives such as milk and sugar.

So in keep­ing with the Mediterranean diet’s sug­ges­tions for con­sum­ing other deli­cious prod­ucts such as wine and olive oil: make sure to do so in mod­er­a­tion.

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