Conflicting claims on cocoa consumption cause controversy

Cocoa BeansResearchers at Harvard Medical School have claimed that drinking cocoa may improve blood flow to the brain in older people.

The study involved sixty people over the age of 65 who had a range of vascular conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes or high blood pressure. Participants drank two cups of cocoa a day for thirty days. Individuals who initially had impaired blood flow in response to brain activity were found to have improved blood flow by the end of the study.

Half of the study group drank cocoa rich in a compound called flavanol, while the other half drank cocoa with low amounts of flavanol. However there were no significant differences in the results for each group. The study concludes therefore that there is an element of cocoa that may increase blood flow to the brain, but it is not necessarily flavanol.

The research results have been published in the media with varying degrees of optimism and accuracy. Some newspaper reports have gone as far as to claim that cocoa consumption can ‘stave off’ Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. However, the NHS Choices website warns against misinterpretation of the results of this very small study which, “did not involve any patients with Alzheimer’s disease  or other types of dementia and is unable to support claims that cocoa may prevent…these diseases”.

Further details of the study and conclusions can be found at the following links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23607879

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/08August/Pages/Cocoa-may-improve-blood-flow-to-the-brain-in-elderly.aspx