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Two daily cups of cocoa appears to halt memory decline in elderly

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

New research suggests that drinking cocoa daily may help the elderly keep their brains healthy. A recent study of 60 elderly people with no reported dementia or memory loss found two daily cups of cocoa improved blood flow to the brain.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Those test subjects whose blood flow improved also did better on memory tests at the end of the study, the journal Neurology reported. However, medical researchers say that more research was needed before definitive conclusions could be drawn.

It wasn't the first time cocoa has been linked with vascular health. Researchers believe that this is in part due to it being rich in flavanols, thought to have an important role.

Researchers asked 60 people in the recent study with an average age of 73 to drink two cups of cocoa a day. One group was given high-flavanol cocoa; the other, a low-flavanol cocoa. They were order to consume no other chocolate during the study.

Ultrasound tests at the start of the study showed 17 of them had impaired blood flow to the brain. There was no reported difference between those who drank flavanol-rich cocoa with those who had flavanol-poor cocoa.

No matter what kind of cocoa the test subject drank, however, 88 percent of those with impaired blood flow at the start of the study saw improvements in blood flow and some cognitive tests, compared with 37 percent of people whose blood flow was normal at the beginning of the study.
MRI scans in 24 participants found that people with impaired blood flow were also more likely to have tiny areas of brain damage.

"We're learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills," study author Dr Farzaneh Sorond, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School says.

"As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."

The lack of difference between the flavanol-rich and flavanol-poor cocoa, researchers noted, could be because another component of the drink was having an effect or because only small amounts were needed.

"A cocoa-based treatment would likely be very popular, but it's too soon to draw any conclusions about its effects, Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research U.K. Says. He acknowledged that this was a small study but that it added to a wealth of evidence.

"One drawback of this study is the lack of a control group for comparison, and we can't tell whether the results would have been different if the participants drank no cocoa at all.

"Poor vascular health is a known risk factor for dementia, and understanding more about the links between vascular problems and declining brain health could help the search for new treatments and preventions," Ridley says.

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