Cocoa, in its pure form, is highly nutritious and modern research has revealed numerous potential health benefits of cocoa, including some which pertain to the brain.
Flavonol antioxidants in cocoa improve blood flow to the brain, according to a study published in the 2006 issue of the "Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology." Even a single dose may produce a measurable increase in blood supply and oxygenation for up to three hours, making it potentially useful in the treatment of conditions involving insufficient blood flow to the brain. Better blood supply also leads to potentially improved brain function, including cognition, attention and memory. Cocoa's blood flow benefits may also slow brain aging and help prevent age-associated dementia.
A compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, found in cocoa and green tea, may protect brain cells from certain damaging effects of HIV infection, according to a study published in the August 20112 issue of the "Journal of Neurovirology." EGCG is able to cross the blood-brain barrier -- the selective filter that prevent potentially harmful substances from reaching the brain -- and protect brain cells from HIV proteins. Researchers note that EGCG is more effective than resveratrol -- the antioxidant found in red grape skins and red wine -- at protecting the brain from HIV-induced cognitive disorders.
Cocoa's circulation benefits may help prevent stroke, say researchers of a study published in the August 2011 issue of the "British Medical Journal." The review of previously published research studies that encompassed 114,000 participants found that higher levels of cocoa consumption reduced cardiovascular disease risk by as much as 37 percent and stroke risk by as much as 29 percent. Healthwise, its best to obtain cocoa flavonols from low-sugar cocoa-rich beverages rather than chocolate confections, as many of these add sugar, saturated fats and excess calories to the diet.
Flavonol consumption from cocoa and other high-flavonol foods provides the best protection against dementia when started early in life and in conjunction with regular exercise and a healthy diet, according to the University of Utah. However, a review of previously published research that appeared in the 2008 issue of the "International Journal of Clinical and Experimental medicine" found that elderly patients with mild memory deficits can also experience significant improvements in memory, hand-eye coordination and verbal fluency. Flavonols protect brain function via a three-pronged approach that protects cell, improves metabolism in the brain and maintains optimal blood supply.