Cocoa extract may help improve cognitive function as you age

Cocoa extract may help improve cognitive function as you age
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A plate of cocoa balls.Share on Pinterest
A new study suggests that taking daily cocoa extract supplements may help boost cognitive function in older adults. Getty Images
  • Older adults who took cocoa extract supplements daily saw a modest increase in cognitive function, but only if their diet was of lower quality.
  • Researchers say it’s too early to recommend coca extract supplements to improve cognitive function.
  • Many lifestyle interventions can reduce the risk of dementia, including a better diet, regular physical activity, and good sleep hygiene.

A new randomized clinical trial found that older adults who took cocoa extract supplements daily for two years saw modest improvements in cognitive function.

However, the benefits were only seen in people whose diet quality was poorer at the start of the study. Those with healthier dietary patterns did not see a similar increase in cognition.

“[The findings] “It raises the possibility that flavanol-rich diets or nutritional supplements can be used to enhance cognitive function among older adults with reduced diet quality,” said Chirag Vyas, MD, BS, of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School also conducted the study, which was published December 7 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The new study, part of the larger Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), included 573 older males and females who were randomly assigned to take a daily cocoa extract or an inactive placebo for two years.

The average age of participants was 70 years, about half of whom were female. In addition, 11% of participants reported eating chocolate daily before starting the experiment.

People in the cocoa extract group took two capsules daily containing a total of 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols, including 80 milligrams of epicatechin.

Flavanols, also known as flavan-3-ols, are a subclass of plant compounds known as flavonoids. Flavanols are found in tea, cocoa-based products, grapes, apples, and berries.

Participants underwent cognitive testing when they were enrolled in the study; 492 participants repeated the test two years later.

When the researchers examined data for the entire group, daily cocoa extract supplements had no effect on people’s overall cognition.

However, when they looked at people with lower diet quality at the start of the study, they found that people taking daily cocoa supplements had “relatively better” changes in overall cognition and executive function.

Executive function is a set of cognitive skills needed for self-control and management of behaviors.

The results are consistent with those of a previous study among COSMOS participants, which found that daily flavanols improve a certain type of memory in older adults with lower diet quality.

However, it contrasts with another cosmos Stady, which found that taking daily vitamins/minerals improved overall cognition, but cocoa extract had no effect. However, this research did not look separately at people with lower diet quality.

The new study included funding and other support from Mars Edge, a division of Mars Foods; and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (now Halion). Neither company was involved in analyzing the data, interpreting the results, or preparing the study manuscript.

Although the study shows a potential benefit of additional cocoa supplements on cognition for people with low diet quality, more research is needed.

“Based on our results, we cannot recommend daily cocoa extract supplementation to maintain cognitive function,” Vyas told Healthline.

“But our findings still underscore the importance of considering diet and nutritional status in future trials evaluating the effect of cocoa extract supplements on cognition,” he added.

He would like to conduct future studies in a more diverse population, as well as specifically focusing on people with low diet quality.

The new study is interesting because it focused on such a specific food compound, with very specific flavanols, said Dr. Thomas Holland, a physician scientist in the department of gastroenterology and nutrition at Rush University in Chicago.

He compares this with a study he co-authored, which looked at general dietary intake of flavonols, another type of flavonoid.

In that study published in 2020 in NeurologyHe and his colleagues assessed participants’ flavonol intake by asking detailed questions about what they ate, including flavonol-rich foods such as kale, spinach, tomatoes, olive oil, beans, and tea.

The results showed that people who consumed more flavonols in their food had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As for the new study, Holland highlighted that the results show that cocoa extract supplements did not benefit people with better diets. This suggests that if people improved the quality of their diet, there would be no need for supplements, he said.

However, “if people don’t want to improve their diet — or they have a nutritional deficiency, for whatever reason — this cocoa extract, or for that matter, a multivitamin, has the potential to fill that nutritional gap,” he told Healthline. .

In those cases, people are recommended to speak with their doctor or healthcare provider before starting any nutritional supplements. There may be other steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia, heart disease, diabetes, or another chronic condition.

Ultimately, “maintaining a healthy, varied and nutritious diet will be beneficial for brain health,” Holland said.

Dietary diversity is key, because different types of foods contain different nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as flavonoids.

He gives the example of a spring salad that contains arugula, spinach, onions, tomatoes, walnuts, and perhaps raspberries or strawberries. “This salad can contain up to 90 to 100 different types of vitamins, minerals and bioactive substances,” including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, he said.

While research shows that diet can reduce the risk of dementia, Holland said the condition is affected by a number of factors, so you need to use as many “tools” as possible.

This includes not only eating a healthy diet, but also getting regular physical activity, promoting an active social life, participating in activities that stimulate your brain, ensuring good quality and quantity of sleep, and practicing stress reduction.

The good thing, he said, is that “it’s never too late or too late to embrace these multifaceted lifestyle changes.”

In a randomized clinical trial, older adults who took cocoa extract supplements daily for two years saw improvements in their cognitive function, but only if their diet quality was lower at the start of the study.

The findings are consistent with previous research, which found that daily intake of flavanols – a compound found in cocoa – improves cognitive function in people with low diet quality.

Experts say more research is needed before recommending cocoa extract supplements to improve cognition, but there are other ways to reduce the risk of dementia, including improving overall diet and getting regular exercise.

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