In the ever-evolving landscape of health and wellness, a recent breakthrough has caught our attention, and it’s as delightful as it is promising—cocoa extract might just be the key to preserving cognitive function in older adults. In a groundbreaking randomized clinical trial, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School explored the cognitive benefits of a daily cocoa extract supplement over two years, and the results are stirring excitement in the scientific community.
The Sweet Study Setup
As part of the larger Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), the research enlisted 573 older individuals randomly assigned to either a daily dose of cocoa extract or an inactive placebo. The magic number was 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols, including 80 milligrams of epicatechin, encapsulated in two daily capsules. What’s noteworthy is that these flavanols, also known as flavan-3-ols, are found in various sources like teas, cocoa-based products, grapes, apples, and berries.
Who Benefits Most?
The sweet twist in the findings is that the positive impact of cocoa extract was more pronounced in individuals with lower diet quality at the study’s commencement. This suggests a potential avenue for those who may need an extra boost in cognitive function. Executive function, crucial for self-control and behavior management, showed particularly promising changes in this subgroup.
Mixed Results and Necessary Caution
Despite the excitement, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced perspective. While cocoa extract demonstrated cognitive benefits for those with lower diet quality, it did not show a similar effect for participants with already healthy dietary patterns. This raises questions about the broader application of cocoa supplementation.
The study was part of COSMOS, which also explored the effects of daily flavanols on memory in older adults with lower diet quality. Interestingly, this aligns with earlier research findings, though it does contradict a different COSMOS study suggesting that a daily multivitamins/mineral improved overall cognition, while cocoa extract had no impact.
More Research Needed
While the current findings are promising, it’s essential to tread carefully before stocking up on cocoa supplements. Dr. Chirag Vyas from the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital advises against daily supplementation based solely on this study. More research, especially in diverse populations and with a specific focus on those with lower diet quality, is needed to draw more concrete conclusions.
Diverse Diets and Cognitive Resilience
Dr. Thomas Holland, a physician-scientist, adds an interesting layer to the conversation. He emphasizes that the study’s results indicate cocoa extract supplements might not be necessary for those with an already high-quality diet. It raises the important notion that a diverse and nutritious diet alone might suffice for cognitive health.
The Power of a Diverse Diet
Holland advocates for a diverse diet, rich in various nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as flavonoids. He underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle beyond just dietary choices, incorporating physical activity, social engagement, brain-stimulating activities, quality sleep, and stress reduction.
In the journey toward a sharper mind and a healthier life, cocoa extract has emerged as a potential ally. However, it’s essential to approach this revelation with measured enthusiasm. The sweet secret to cognitive resilience may not lie in a pill but in the overall richness and diversity of our lifestyles. As we savor the potential benefits of cocoa extract, let’s not forget the myriad other tools at our disposal for a well-rounded and thriving existence.