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Hot Cocoa Promotes Brain Health

Posted Sep 09 2013 10:07pm

Blood flow in the brain affects thinking and memory, and different areas of the brain have different energy requirements and blood flow to complete their tasks – an effect known as neurovascular coupling.  Farzaneh A. Sorond, from Harvard Medical School (Massachusetts, USA), and colleagues studied 60 older men and women, average age 72.9 years, who did not have dementia at the study’s start; however, 18 subjects had impaired blood flow at the start of the study. The participants drank two cups of hot cocoa per day for 30 days and did not consume any other chocolate during the study. They were given tests of memory and thinking skills, and were administered ultrasound tests to measure the amount of blood flow to the brain during the tests.  The subjects with impaired blood flow at the study’s start showed an 8.3% improvement in the blood flow to the working areas of the brain by the end of the study, while there was no improvement for those who started out with regular blood flow.  The people with impaired blood flow also improved their times on a test of working memory, with scores dropping from 167 seconds at the beginning of the study to 116 seconds at the end. There was no change in times for people with regular blood flow. Observing that: “there is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments,” the study authors write that: “Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity.”

Sorond FA, Hurwitz S, Salat DH, Greve DN, Fisher ND.  “Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people.”  Neurology. 2013 Aug 7.

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Tip #192 - Stay Connected
Researchers from the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA) report that social isolation may be detrimental to both mental and physical health. The team analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide US study involving 3,000 men and women, ages 57 to 85 years. They arrived at three key findings regarding the relationships between health and different types of isolation:

• The researchers found that the most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

• The team found that older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

• They determined that social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Separately, Rush University Medical Center (Illinois, USA) researchers studied 906 older men and women, testing their motor functions (including grip, pinch strength, balance, and walking) and surveying their social activity, for a period of 5 years. Those study participants with less social activity were found to have a more rapid rate of motor function decline. Specifically, the team found that every one-point decrease in social activity corresponded to an increase in functional aging of 5 years, translating to a 40% higher risk of death and 65% higher risk of disability.

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