True or false: cocoa improves cognitive performance

True or false: cocoa improves cognitive performance

Well-being, brain function, or even protection against free radicals: cocoa is credited with a thousand and one virtues for physical and mental health. But are they all justified? Many studies have looked into the subject, with mixed conclusions, but the latest one risks disappointing people… A daily supplement of cocoa extracts would have no benefit on cognitive function, except in people with an unbalanced diet.

In less than two weeks, young and old will wake up to the joy of discovering numerous gifts under the tree, including chocolate boxes and moldings. Whether dark, milk, white, or decorated with seeds, fruits, and other delicacies, chocolate is easy to devour at this time of year – and without feeling (too much) guilty. After all, it seems that it is good for your health, and science says so! It is true that numerous studies have focused on the benefits of cocoa for the heart, memory, beauty of the skin, mental health, and even to counter the effects of jet lag. If the results have not always been conclusive, it must be recognized that most of the said research has amply praised its merits.

Good or not for the brain, chocolate?

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in the United States, wanted to focus their research on the benefits of cocoa, and more specifically cocoa flavanols (natural compounds found in cocoa beans). of cocoa, rightly recognized for their health benefits), on cognitive function. To do this, they carried out their work with participants in the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a large-scale study carried out in the United States (21,442 elderly participants) to determine the impact of a daily supplement with extracts of cocoa on cardiovascular health, cancer, and other diseases.

The researchers included 573 participants with an average age of 69.6 years in this specific research, who consumed a daily cocoa extract supplement containing 500 mg of cocoa flavanols – or a placebo – and completed cognitive tests at the start of the study, then after two years.

No benefit on cognitive function

Bad news for all chocolate fans, the results are clear: “No cognitive benefits were seen in participants who already had healthy eating habits at the start of the study. (…) Results of detailed neuropsychological assessments carried out over a two-year period showed that daily supplementation with cocoa extracts, compared to a placebo, had no beneficial effects on overall or domain-specific cognitive functions“, indicate the authors of the study in a press release.

In a note, the researchers specify that these results confirm the conclusions of a previous study on the subject. However, several studies have shown that flavanols are good for memory. In any case, these are the results of a study presented in 2014 by researchers from Columbia University, and carried out with 37 healthy volunteers, aged 50 to 69. As a result of their work, the scientists suggested that cocoa flavanols reversed age-related memory decline in healthy elderly people. But the latter had received either a diet rich in flavanols, namely 900 mg of flavanols per day… Could the key be found in the quantity absorbed?

NO to diets, YES to WW!

With one exception

Note, however, that the study focused on cognitive function, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that some of the participants had nevertheless benefited from the daily supplement of 500 mg of cocoa extracts. Those who had a diet considered “poor”, or of poor quality – in other words not healthy – benefited from the cognitive benefits of flavanols. Something that the researchers do not explain in their report, but that they intend to explore further to determine an exact link. In any case, as the end-of-year holidays approach, there is no question of depriving yourself of the essential chocolate that will find its way into homes, provided – as always – that you consume it in moderation.