A new study finds drinking cocoa is not just a sweet choice, it may also be the “smart” choice as well. Researchers at the University of Birmingham find consuming flavanol-rich foods, something commonly found in cocoa, increases the drinker’s mental performance.
Flavanols are a group of molecules which occur naturally in fruits and vegetables. They’re a member of the plant flavonoid family and are common in cocoa, grapes, apples, tea, berries, and even wine. While previous studies reveal these molecules can improve brain health, the new report finds they also stimulate brain-blood oxygenation levels. The results show this actually helps people to think faster and perform cognitive challenges more efficiently.
The study examined 18 healthy men between 18 and 40 years-old and checked their blood oxygenation levels, tracking how they responded before and after drinking flavanols.
The study participants also underwent non-invasive brain imaging to measure blood oxygenation levels in the brain. Working with experts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois), the researchers showed that participants who had consumed the flavanol-rich drink produced a faster and greater increase in blood oxygenation levels in response to artificially elevated levels of CO2 (hypercapnia). Following the carbon dioxide test, the participants were asked to complete a number of progressively complex cognitive tests.
The researchers found that the participants who had taken the flavanol-enriched drink had the highest levels of blood oxygenation in response to hypercapnia, reaching levels up to three times higher than participants drinking the non-flavanol-enriched drink. They also achieved these elevated levels 1 minute faster than participants who drank the non-enriched cocoa.
“Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink – but only when the task became sufficiently complicated,” explains Dr Rendeiro. “We can link this with our results on improved blood oxygenation – if you’re being challenged more, your brain needs improved blood oxygen levels to manage that challenge. It also further suggests that flavanols might be particularly beneficial during cognitively demanding tasks.”
You can find more on the study in their release, here.