The study, which is the second of a two-part investigation, trialled three drinks with varying cocoa flavanol content on men and women aged between 61 and 85 – who had no form of cognitive impairments – for eight weeks. Cognitive function was tested at the start and at the end of the study by using memory, retention, recall and executive function tests.
Those who consumed higher levels of cocoa flavanols in the cocoa drinks, which were provided by Mars, showed a significant improvement in overall cognitive function after eight weeks, according to the study's lead author Dr Giovambattista Desideri.
Not fully understood
It’s not fully understood how the cocoa flavanols improved cognitive function. “Earlier studies suggest a central role for insulin resistance in brain ageing,” Desideri said.
“These results could therefore provide some insight into a possible mechanism of action for the cognitive improvements we have observed.”
More research is needed to fully understand how cocoa flavanols affect cognitive function so new products with a cognitive health function can be formulated in the future, Desideri added.
Other firms, such as the ingredients company DSM, are carrying out research into the role vitamin E plays in reducing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Huge amounts of research about vitamin E’s ability to maintain brain health has been published and DSM’s senior vice president of nutrition science and advocacy Professor Manfred Eggersdorfer said vitamin E could soon get an EU health claim approval.
“There are several strong studies about vitamin E and the effect it has on brain health,” Eggersdorfer said.
Deaths from dementia have risen by 52% since1990 to 49,349 in 2013. It is now the third most common cause of death in the UK – overtaking lung cancer – according to 2013 figures from the Global Burden of Disease Study.
More than 42,000 people in the UK below the age of 65 suffer from dementia, while 2,010 40-year-olds and 707 30-year-olds also suffer from it.