Cocoa reported to benefit seniors with cognitive impairment, hypertension, and insulin resistance

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
cocoa, flavonols, cognitive impairment, blood pressur, insulin resistance

A new study has reported that cocoa can benefit seniors with mild cognitive impairment, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Researchers affiliated with the University of L’Aquila (Italy) and the University of Pisa (Italy) published their findings online on August 14 in the journal Hypertension.

The components of cocoa attributed with the health benefits are flavonols. The authors theorized that dietary flavanols might improve cognitive function in subjects with mild cognitive impairment. They conducted a double-blind study in 90 seniors with mild cognitive impairment randomized to consume once daily for eight weeks a drink containing 990 mg (high flavanols), 520 mg (intermediate flavanols), or 45 mg (low flavanols) of cocoa flavanols per day. They assessed cognitive function by Mini Mental State Examination, Trail Making Test A and B, and verbal fluency test.

The researchers found that at the end of the follow-up period, Mini Mental State Examination was similar in the three treatment groups. However, the time required to complete Trail Making Test A and Trail Making Test B was significantly lower in subjects assigned to high flavanols (A: 38.10 ± 10.94 seconds; B: 104.10±28.73 seconds) and intermediate flavanols (A: 40.20 ± 11.35 seconds; B: 115.97 ± 28.35 seconds) in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (A: 52.60 ± 17.97; B: 139.23 ± 43.02 seconds). Furthermore, verbal fluency test score was significantly better in subjects assigned to high flavanols in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (27.50 ± 6.75 versus 22.30 ± 8.09 words per 60 seconds). Furthermore, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation also decreased among subjects in the high-flavanol and intermediate-flavanol groups. The authors noted that changes of insulin resistance explained approximately 40% of composite Z score variability through the study period. (The Z score is an indicator used in data analysis that measures how far a given data point is from the mean (average) of the data.


The authors note that to the best of their knowledge, this study was the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in seniors with mild cognitive impairment. They add that this effect appears mediated in part by an improvement in insulin sensitivity.

Flavonols belong to a large group of compounds known as flavonoids, which are diverse in their chemical structure and characteristics. Fruits, vegetables, and beverages such as tea and red wine are major sources of flavonols in the human diet. The daily consumption of flavonols is difficult to estimate because values depend on accurate assessment of feeding habits and flavonol content in foods. Food sources, dietary intakes, and bioavailability of flavonols are strongly influenced by variations in plant type and growth, season, light, degree of ripeness, food preparation, and processing.

Take home message:
This study notes a win-win situation: partaking of a pleasant beverage and improving one’s physical and mental health.

Reference: Hypertension