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Cocoa: Can 2 Cups a Day Keep Dementia at Bay?


Every physician knows that a “magic pill” that would safely and effectively prevent dementia has eluded the multiple and expensive efforts of the world’s greatest pharmaceutical companies. A new study offers a ray of hope on this front.

Every physician is aware that there is an increasing global population of aging cognitively impaired individuals. And every physician also knows that a “magic pill” that would safely and effectively prevent dementia has eluded the multiple and expensive efforts of the world’s greatest pharmaceutical companies.

Now there appears to be a ray of hope on this front. 

The “magic pill” I refer to is safe, inexpensive, and it is found in many-if not most-homes. It is effective within the parameters used to recruit the subjects; devoid of serious side effects; and it tastes delicious. And if you promise to walk an extra mile or two a day, it will not cause you to gain weight!

I refer to a recent report in the journal Neurology. Sorond and a group of investigators from Harvard1 looked at the relationship between neurovascular coupling (NVC) and cognitive functioning in older persons who had vascular risk factors. NVC-a term used to define the close functional and spatial relationships between neuronal activity and cerebral blood flow-has previously been associated with significant pathology in the brain.1 Neuronal activity is linked to oxygen and glucose delivery. An increase in neuronal activity results in an increase in blood flow.

The subjects in this study, all 60 years and older (average age, 73 years), were followed in a double-blind parallel-arm clinical trial that measured the effects of 30 days of cocoa consumption via blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral arteries. Cognitive testing included the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Trails B test.

After 30 days of 2 cups of cocoa a day, there was a statistically significant increase in NVC (P = .001), and an improvement in the Trails B test score (P = .07) relative to baseline values.

Of course, such an early study requires confirmatory studies, especially since the number of subjects was small and the treatment duration all too brief-particularly when the problems the study addressed are intrinsically long-lasting.

Nevertheless, at present, both physicians and patients are aware that there is little to combat the progression of diseases of memory impairment despite many well-conducted trials involving a variety of drugs and funded by a large number of global pharmacological companies.

It is still very early to know exactly what the value of this simple approach will prove to be. Perhaps at best, even if 2 cups of cocoa a day prove to be an ineffective means of preventing cognitive decline, there is little downside risk. At very least, perhaps this study offers a faint glimmer of light in the dark landscapes of cognitive impairment and memory loss.

1. Farzaneh A, Sorond FA, Hurwitz S, et al. Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people. Neurology. 2013 Aug 7; [Epub ahead of print].  doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a351aa


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