Cocoa Boosts Your Memory

cocoa health benefits

Drinking cocoa has beneficial effects on the brain to boost your memory – especially your memory recall. This may explain why Einstein ate chocolate while formulating his Theory of Relativity, and why scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine previously showed that countries with the highest chocolate consumption produce more Nobel Prize winners per head of population than those with the lowest intakes.

Cocoa improves memory

The memory-boosting effects of cocoa are believed to come from chocolate’s rich content of antioxidant flavanol polyphenols. These boost blood flow to the brain and reduce the low-grade inflammation which is associated with ‘foggy’ thoughts. Similar memory benefits were recently found when drinking orange juice.

The flavanol theory was recently tested by Italian researchers who recruited 90 healthy, older people (average age 70) with the tempting offer of a free mug of cocoa, every day, for 8 weeks. Volunteers (I imagine they formed a long queue) were randomised to receive one of three different types of cocoa which tasted the same and supplied similar amounts of caffeine, calories, vitamins and minerals. The only difference was in the quantity of flavanols present.

One lucky group drank a high flavanol cocoa (993 mg per sachet), one a low flavanol cocoa (48mg) and one an intermediate cocoa providing 520mg flavanols. Each participant completed memory and verbal fluency tests before and after the trial.

The researchers found a clear, dose-response effect, with those in the high flavanol group showing significantly greater improvements in memory and verbal reasoning than the intermediate group who, in turn, showed significantly greater improvement than the low flavanol group. Interestingly, the researchers suggest that reduced insulin resistance (ie improved glucose handling) may explain some of these findings.

Buy high flavanol cocoa

Unfortunately, cocoa does contain a lot of calories. Just 100g of dark chocolate (a modest amount for us dedicated chocoholics) provides 510 kcals of energy which, if not worked off through increased exercise, will lead to weight gain if enjoyed daily – especially in later life. Even so, eating some dark chocolate or enjoying a mug of good-quality cocoa as part of a balanced diet needn’t make you feel too sinful. Just ensure your chosen brand is high in flavanols and that your chocolate is dark and expensive!

Whatever you do, don’t add sugar to your cocoa as this will counteract the benefits and increase your long-term risk of diabetes.

One brand of cocoa, Aduna, now has an approved EU health claim that it ‘helps maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow’.

Click here to find out why high flavanol cocoa is good for the heart.

If you are prone to spots, click here to find out why chocolate can make acne worse.

Image credit: rosevita/morguefile

About Dr Sarah Brewer

QUORA EXPERT - TOP WRITER 2018 Dr Sarah Brewer MSc (Nutr Med), MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, RNutr, MBANT, CNHC Cert IoD qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine and Surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master's degree in nutritional medicine from the University of Surrey. Sarah is a registered Medical Doctor, a registered Nutritionist and a registered Nutritional Therapist. She is an award winning author of over 70 popular self-help books and a columnist for Prima magazine.

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