Those looking to improve their memory are unlikely to turn to chocolate for help. But a new study backs up previous research that says the sugary treat actually boosts memory and helps keep our brains healthy.
The researchers say a chemical in chocolate called flavanol can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation and could therefore help people with insomnia.
Their study is the latest in a long line of research to confirm the memory and sleep-related benefits of chocolate.
Flavanols are natural compounds that boost brain function alongside a range of protective effects, and are found in abundance in cocoa beans.
The study, from researchers at the University of L’Aquila, Italy, found that attention, brain processing speed, working memory, and fluency of speech in the elderly can all be improved by a daily dose of flavanol.
This, the researchers said, means that chocolate – more specifically the flavanols it contains – could one day be used to treat vulnerable people.
‘This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance,’ study lead author Dr Valentina Socci said.
‘Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols – so we always eat some dark chocolate, every day.’
As well as the apparent health benefits, the researchers also warned of the potential side effects of eating cocoa and chocolate.
‘Those are generally linked to the caloric value of chocolate, some inherent chemical compounds of the cocoa plant such as caffeine and theobromine, and a variety of additives we add to chocolate such as sugar or milk,’ Dr Socci said.
In the study – a review of recent research into the effects of chocolate – the team explored what happens to your brain up to a few hours after you eat cocoa flavanols.
They also studied what happens when you sustain a chocolate enriched diet for an extended period of time.
Many of the studies pointed toward flavanols having a positive effect on brain function.
Participants showed, among others, enhancements in memory tests and quicker visual processing skills after having had cocoa flavanols.
For women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation actually counteracted some of the effects of tiredness.
The researchers say that these results are promising for people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work shifts.
The effects of eating cocoa flavanols in the long term – ranging from 5 days up to 3 months – has mostly been studied in elderly people.
The review found that, for the elderly, brain function is boosted by a daily intake of chocolate.
Factors such as attention, brain processing speed, working memory, and fluency of speech were all greatly improved.
These effects were, however, most pronounced in older adults with a starting memory decline or other mild brain impairments.
Source Mail Online