The flavanols in cocoa have a remarkable effect on the irrigation of the brain, which improves its ability to perform complex tasks.

Flavanols, a subfamily of flavonoids, are molecules with recognized antioxidant properties. Several plants are very rich in it, in particular the tea tree, the vine and the cocoa tree. The cocoa bean is one of the most important sources of flavanols (catechins), and dark chocolate contains around 54 mg/100 g.

Good for the arteries

The flavanols in cocoa have already been shown to have a beneficial effect on vascular health by protecting the endothelium, the innermost layer of blood vessels, in contact with the blood. The deterioration of these tissues contributes in particular to the formation of plaques blocking the arteries (atherosclerosis). Recent research have found real benefits of flavanols on brain function.

A British team (University of Birmingham) conducted an important research on the matter. Healthy adults were divided into two groups: in turn, some were given a drink very rich in cocoa flavanols, others cocoa with low amounts of flavanols. Tests followed, in the form of complex mental tasks, and it turns out that when cognitive demands are high (memory, reasoning, concentration, etc.), the consumption of flavanols is associated with better performance.

And good for the brain too

Why ? Because flavanols induce stronger and faster oxygenation of the brain. The researchers demonstrated this by placing the participants in a state of hypercapnia (too much carbon dioxide – CO2 – in the blood). To do this, they were made to breathe air containing a high (but safe…) concentration of CO2, and it was found that the flavanols promote faster elimination by stimulating the supply of oxygen to the brain.

In fact, the authors add, the people who reacted best to the action of flavanols in hypercapnia are also those whose results improved the most on complicated cognitive tests. In practice, if you want to stimulate your mental capacities a little, it probably helps to bite into a piece of dark chocolate.

Betsy Wilson

A true science nerd and pediatric nursing specialist, Betsy is passionate about all things pregnancy and baby-related. She contributes her expertise to the Scientific Origin.