Pensioners should eat chocolate every day to keep dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at bay, according to a new study.
Researchers found eating cocoa flavanols daily may improve mild cognitive impairment. More than six per cent of people aged 70 years or older every year develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition involving memory loss that can progress to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Flavanols can be found in tea, grapes, red wine, apples and cocoa products and have been associated with a decreased risk of dementia. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contains flavanols which naturally open up blood vessels in the body, allowing blood to flow more easily.
They may act on the brain structure and function directly by protecting neurons from injury, improving metabolism and their interaction with the molecular structure responsible for memory, researchers said.
In the new study, 90 elderly people with mild cognitive impairment were chosen to drink daily either 990 milligrams, 520mg or 45mg of a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks.
The diet was restricted to eliminate other sources of flavanols from foods and beverages other than the dairy-based cocoa drink.
Their cognitive function was examined by neuro-psychological tests of executive function, working memory, short-term memory, long-term memory and processing speed.
The researchers found scores significantly improved in the ability to relate visual stimuli to motor responses, working memory, task-switching and verbal memory for those drinking the high and intermediate flavanol drinks.
The pensioners who drank daily higher levels of flavanol drinks had significantly higher overall cognitive scores than those participants drinking lower levels. And blood pressure also decreased in those drinking high and intermediate levels of flavanols daily.
The study’s lead author Dr Giovambattista Desideri, of the University of L’Aquila in Italy, said: “This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally balanced diet, could improve cognitive function.”
He added: “It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function.”
The pensioners in the study were generally in good health without known cardiovascular disease.
Dr Desideri said: “Given the global rise in cognitive disorders, which have a true impact on an individual’s quality of life, the role of cocoa flavanols in preventing or slowing the progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia warrants further research.
“Larger studies are needed to validate the findings.”
The research was published in the journal Hypertension.