Boosting brain power -- with chocolate

February 21, 2007

Eating chocolate could help to sharpen up the mind and give a short-term boost to cognitive skills, a University of Nottingham expert has found.

A study led by Professor Ian Macdonald found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols — a key ingredient of dark chocolate — boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours.

Increased blood flow to these areas of the brain may help to increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness over a short period.

The findings, unveiled at one of the biggest scientific conferences in America, also raise the prospect of ingredients in chocolate being used to treat vascular impairment, including dementia and strokes, and thus for maintaining cardiovascular health.

The study also suggests that the cocoa flavanols found in chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation, and even the effects of ageing.

Ian Macdonald, professor of metabolic physiology at The University of Nottingham, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect increased activity in specific areas of the brain in individuals who had consumed a single drink of flavanol-rich cocoa. The effect is linked to dilation of cerebral blood vessels, allowing more blood — and therefore more oxygen — to reach key areas of the brain.

Flavanols are not only found in chocolate with a high cocoa content — they are also present in other substances such as red wine, green tea and blueberries.

He presented his research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the biggest annual gatherings of scientists from all over the world.

Professor Macdonald said: "Acute consumption of this particular flavanol-rich cocoa beverage was associated with increased grey matter flow for two to three hours.

"The demonstration of an effect of consuming this particular beverage on cerebral blood flow raises the possibility that certain food ingredients may be beneficial in increasing brain blood flow and enhancing brain function, in situations where individuals are cognitively impaired such as fatigue, sleep deprivation, or possibly ageing."

He emphasised that the level of cocoa flavanol used in the study is not available commercially. The cocoa-rich flavanol beverage was specially formulated for the purpose of the study.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: Consuming flavanol-rich cocoa may enhance brain function

Related Stories

Chocolate may help keep brain healthy

August 7, 2013

Drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help older people keep their brains healthy and their thinking skills sharp, according to a study published in the August 7, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal ...

Hope for patients with HIV-associated cognitive impairment

August 14, 2012

Current drug therapy for patients with HIV is unable to control the complete replication of the virus in the brain. The drugs therefore do not have any effect against the complications associated with neurocognitive impairment ...

Sounding the alarm about caffeine powder

January 20, 2015

In a world craving stimulation to stay awake, function at peak levels or just feel a bit brighter, caffeine is the ready ingredient in an expanding array of foods, beverages and medications.

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.