Cocoa Flavanols Boost Mental Agility

Cocoa Flavanols Boost Mental Agility

A cocoa drink rich in flavanols will help you improve your cognitive performance through increasing brain oxygenation, a recent study demonstrates.

Key points:

  • Flavanols occur naturally in some fruit, vegetables, and cocoa.
  • Now we know that, in addition to vascular function, flavanols also benefit cognitive function.
  • Consuming a flavanol-rich cocoa drink improved cognitive performance in study participants.
  • Look for at least 200 mg flavanol cocoa to see the positive effect on cognition.

Flavanols are a group of present molecules in some fruit, vegetables, cocoa, and tea. 

Previously, flavanols were proved to have a protective effect on human vascular health. A research team at the University of Birmingham has discovered that flavanol-rich food assertively improves cognitive function.

The team recruited 18 healthy men aged 18-40 and performed two separate examinations before and after they consumed two types of cocoa drinks: 

  1. High in flavanols
  2. Very low in flavanols

Two hours after the drink, participants were asked to breathe in air with 5% carbon dioxide — about 100 times the average air concentration. Researchers say this is a classic method to measure the brain’s blood circulation. Typically, the blood flow to the brain increases.

The next step was cognitive testing. Men were asked to complete several progressively complex tasks.

After participants had a flavanol-rich drink, their cognitive performance was 11% better on the most challenging tasks, compared to consuming low-flavanol cocoa. However, there was no significant difference in the more manageable tasks. 

“Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink – but only when the task became sufficiently complicated,” clarified lead researcher Dr. Catarina 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”.

According to the European Union, the minimal level that boosts blood flow is at least 200 mg of flavanols. To figure out how many flavanols each cacao product has, you need to check the label. And don’t fall for a higher percentage of cacao, as it doesn’t mean more flavanols.

One more exciting study outcome: 4 out of 18 participants weren’t positively affected by flavanols. Authors say it’s because they already had existing high levels of brain oxygenation responses to start with. ”This may indicate that some individuals that perhaps are already very fit have little room for further improvement,” explains Rendeiro.


Cocoa flavanols boost brain oxygenation, cognition in healthy adults

Your chances of choosing a cocoa product with lots of flavanols