Print options

August 07, 2013

Hot Chocolate May Help Keep Older Brains Healthy

by Faith Lapidus

As if we needed another reason to love chocolate, it turns out hot cocoa could be good for you. A new study says drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help older brains remain sharp.

A common form of dementia is caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain. Harvard Medical School neurologist Farzaneh Sorond wanted to understand how blood flow in the brain affected thinking skills. She studied a group of 60 older people, with an average age of 73, who did not have dementia. Eighteen, however, had impaired blood flow in their brain.

The participants drank two cups of hot cocoa a day for a month. They were given tests of memory and thinking, and Sorond used an ultrasound to measure blood flow during the tests. She found that blood flow to the working parts of the brain increased with the cognitive tasks.

By the end of the study, the participants who had impaired blood flow had significantly improved their scores on the tests, and showed an 8.3 percent improvement in blood flow. The other participants had no change in their performance and blood flow.

There is a hypothesis that the antioxidant flavanol, which is found in cocoa, helps cognition. Alzheimer's expert Paul Rosenberg, who wrote an editorial accompanying Sorond's study in the journal Neurology, said that theory, however, did not hold up.

"Her findings go against that. She [Sorond] tested cocoa that was rich in flavanol and poor in flavanol, and she found no difference," said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg, of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, called her study "an important first step" toward future studies, though, that could lead to better drugs or treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

"Dr. Sorond's a friend, so we've talked about this, and neither of us are quite ready to jump out and say, 'take cocoa.' But it's possible there may be a drug to develop that's sitting inside your cocoa," he said.

And until then, we can enjoy hot chocolate - maybe with some whipped cream - simply because it tastes good!