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Researchers at the University of Birmingham studied 18 healthy men to understand how the antioxidants in cocoa affect the brain.
The men were exposed to raised (but safe) levels of five per cent carbon dioxide, known to reduce circulation to the brain, before completing certain complex tasks.
The increased carbon dioxide levels can lead to hypercapnia, which can cause mild disorientation. The study was carried out twice and very interestingly, those who drank cocoa rich in flavanols (the antioxidants found in cocoa) performed better and faster.
"Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink, but only when the task became sufficiently complicated," said lead author Dr Catarina Rendeiro.
"We can link this with our results on improved blood oxygenation. If you're being challenged more, your brain needs improved blood oxygen levels to manage that challenge.
"It also further suggests flavanols might be particularly beneficial during cognitively demanding tasks."
One group of men in the study had high levels of oxygen and results show they did not benefit.
"This may indicate some individuals, that perhaps are already very fit, have little room for further improvement," Dr Rendeiro continued.
"The small group of participants who did not react to the flavanol gives us additional evidence to confirm the link between increased brain blood oxygenation and cognitive ability."
Now, it's not merely cocoa that contains flavanols, but some fruits and vegetables, too (which let's face it, would be much healthier).
"We used cocoa in our experiment, but flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables," said Dr Rendeiro.
"By better understanding the cognitive benefits of eating these food groups, as well as the wider cardiovascular benefits, we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices."
Hmm, we wonder whether adding cream and marshmallows reaps any health benefits, too?
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