A new study suggests a cocoa drink a day could help boost the efficiency of your brain’s working memory, but it’s too early to say for sure.
The randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial, led by Dr David Camfield of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University, was funded by a large chocolate manufacturer.
“It does provide preliminary evidence that [cocoa flavanols] can help people to do cognitive tasks more effectively,” says Camfield, whose research is published in the journal Physiology & Behaviour.
Flavanols are chemicals found in plant foods, including grapes, apples, tea and cocoa and have been linked to a range of health benefits, says Camfield.
This latest study looked at the effect of cocoa flavanols on spatial working memory, which holds information in the brain and makes it available for further processing
Camfield says spatial working memory declines rapidly as people age.
His study involved 63 middle-aged volunteers aged between 40 and 65 years, who were asked to drink a chocolate drink each day for 30 days before being tested.
“We looked at brain imaging while people were doing a spatial working memory task,” says Camfield.
In the task, volunteers looked at dots displayed on a screen. Then for about 3 seconds, the screen went blank and during that time the participant had to hold in their memory the location of the dots.
They were tested several times to see whether they could remember where the dots were.
The volunteers were divided into three groups. One group had a drink containing 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols, a second group had a drink with 250 milligrams of cocoa flavanols and a third group had a placebo drink.
None of the groups knew exactly what they were drinking.
The tests were carried out before and after the 30-day treatment period and each time the researchers carried out imaging to check the brain’s activation.
“We didn’t find any differences in terms of accuracy or reaction time in terms of task itself, but we found differences in the brain activity,” says Camfield.
Less brain power
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