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Cocoa Extract Supplementation: A Potential Cognitive Booster for Older Adults with Poor Diets

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Ethan Sulliva
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Cocoa Extract Supplementation: A Potential Cognitive Booster for Older Adults with Poor Diets

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In the pursuit of cognitive health, a new study points towards the potential benefits of cocoa extract supplementation. The study, part of the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), suggests that cocoa extract supplements containing 500 mg per day of cocoa flavanols had cognitive benefits for older adults who had lower habitual diet quality at the time of enrollment in the study. However, cognitive benefits were not found among participants who already had healthy dietary patterns at the start of the study. The study was conducted by researchers at Mass General Brigham.

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The COSMOS Study

Involving 573 older adults who underwent detailed, in-person cognitive testing, the COSMOS study examined the effects of daily cocoa extract supplementation over a period of two years. The results from detailed neuropsychological assessments showed that daily cocoa extract supplementation, compared to a placebo, had no overall benefits for global or domain-specific cognitive function. However, secondary analyses showed that participants with poor diet quality had cognitive benefits from taking the cocoa extract supplement.

Who Benefits the Most?

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Subgroup analyses suggested potential cognitive benefits of cocoa extract supplementation among those with poorer baseline diet quality. The average age of participants was 70 years, with around half being female. Participants in the cocoa extract group took two capsules a day containing a total of 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols, including 80 milligrams of epicatechin. Flavanols are found in teas, cocoa-based products, grapes, apples, and berries. The study found that diverse diet and other changes are key for preserving cognitive function, and that maintaining a healthy diverse nutritious diet is beneficial for brain health.

Limitations and Future Directions

While the study provides promising insights, the researchers have emphasized the need for confirmation in a future trial. The findings suggest that cocoa extract might be considered as part of a broader strategy for a healthy diet, especially amongst older adults with unhealthy dietary patterns. However, it's also important to note that the study found no significant cognitive benefits of cocoa extract supplementation compared with placebo on global cognition, episodic memory, and executive function attention.

Conclusion: A Holistic Approach to Cognitive Health

While the results of this study suggest that cocoa extract supplementation could potentially benefit older adults with lower diet quality, it should not be seen as a standalone solution. The key takeaway from the study is the significance of maintaining a diverse and nutritious diet for preserving cognitive function in older adults. Further research is required to delve deeper into the potential therapeutic use of cocoa supplementation for at-risk older adults. In the meantime, adopting a balanced diet, regular exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits remain essential for promoting cognitive health in older adults.

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