Cocoa flavanols may boost brain health benefits of exercise: Human data

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / AndreyGorulko
© Getty Images / AndreyGorulko

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Consumption of a high-flavanol cocoa beverage may enhance the effects of exercise on executive function in healthy volunteers, says a new study from Japan.

A single dose of cocoa flavanols 70 minutes before exercise was associated with improvements in executive function, which involves working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving, but had no impact on memory function, which includes episodic memory, and short- and long-term memory.

“[T]he present study demonstrated that [high cocoa flavanol] consumption prior to moderate-intensity exercise could effectively enhance exercise-induced improvements in [executive function], but not in [memory function], as shown by the early improvement in [executive function] induced by [high cocoa flavanol] consumption compared with [low cocoa flavanol] consumption,” ​wrote the authors in Nutrition.

“Therefore, we suggest that the combination of [high cocoa flavanol] consumption and aerobic exercise may be beneficial for improving cognitive function. The present study is the first to demonstrate the beneficial effect of the combination of nutritional and exercise interventions on cognitive function, especially [executive function]. However, the present study only demonstrated an acute positive effect on cognitive function.”

Study details

The new study, performed by scientists from Ritsumeikan University, Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, and Tokyo Medical University, included 10 healthy young men randomly assigned to consume beverages with either high (563 mg) or low (38 mg) of cocoa flavanols 70 minutes before a moderate-intensity cycling exercise. The men then underwent cognitive tasks to assess executive function and memory function.

Results showed that exercise improved executive function in both groups, but the high-flavanol group displayed greater enhancements.

On the other hand, no impacts on memory function were recorded for either group, said the researchers.

“Further studies are needed to examine the chronic effect of the combination of [high cocoa flavanol] consumption and aerobic exercise on cognitive function,” ​they concluded.

Source: Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2017.08.017
“Flavanol-rich cocoa consumption enhances exercise-induced executive function improvements in humans”
Authors: H. Tsukamoto, et al. 

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