In the last few years there has been a lot of research on the potential health benefits of cocoa on cardiovascular health. Mechanisms of action include:
- Inhibition of LDL oxidation
- Platelet activation
- Improving serum lipid profile
- Lowering blood pressure
However, there have been few research studies on the effects of cocoa on cognition. A recent clinical trial in Australia investigated the effects of cocoa supplementation on cognitive and cardiovascular functioning in young healthy adults. This randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, parallel design was carried out over a four-week period.
The study concluded consumption of 250mg cocoa significantly improved self-reported mental fatigue and performance.
The exact mechanism behind the action of cocoa flavanols is unknown, but the possibility arises that the improvement in mental fatigue may be due to increased cerebral blood flow.
The research trial published by Massee et al in ‘frontires of Pharmacology’, concluded that a 250 mg dose of cocoa flavanols was found to attenuate mental fatigue and improve minor aspects of cognitive performance acutely but not sub-chronically (30 day post dose effect) during a highly demanding task. It should be noted that the cocoa supplement did contain 5.6 mg of caffeine, but it is unclear that such a small dose of caffeine has an effect on cognition. Furthermore, the young age and size of the present cohort may also have contributed to the lack of cognitive and vascular findings.
Further research is required to assess a higher dose of cocoa as well as cognitive, mood and cardiovascular effects in an older cohort.