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How Cocoa Flavanols Benefit Cognitive Function in Older Adults with Poor Dietary Patterns

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Ethan Sulliva
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How Cocoa Flavanols Benefit Cognitive Function in Older Adults with Poor Dietary Patterns

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Recent research from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital provides new insights into the cognitive benefits of cocoa flavanols for older adults. This study, known as the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), explored the effects of daily supplements of cocoa extract and a common multivitamin on various health outcomes. The results were particularly enlightening when it came to understanding the possible cognitive benefits for older adults, especially those with lower quality diets.

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Cocoa Flavanols and Cognitive Function

The COSMOS study involved 573 older adults and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Participants were given cocoa extract supplements containing 500 mg per day of cocoa flavanols. The study's findings suggest that daily cocoa extract supplementation had no overall benefits for global or domain-specific cognitive function. However, a noteworthy exception was found among participants with poor diet quality. In this group, cognitive benefits were observed, pointing to the potential efficacy of cocoa flavanols as a dietary supplement for this population.

The Role of Dietary Quality

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Interestingly, the cognitive benefits of cocoa extract supplements were not observed among participants who had healthy dietary patterns. This suggests that the positive impact of cocoa flavanols may be most pronounced for individuals whose diets are lacking in certain nutrients. It highlights the role of overall dietary quality in cognitive health and raises questions about how dietary supplementation can best be utilized to support cognitive function in older adults.

Nutrient Intake and Cognitive Function

This research aligns with previous studies that have established a relationship between nutrient intake and cognitive function. A study found that higher intake and adequacy of certain nutrients from food were associated with higher cognitive function in both older males and females. The nutrients that showed the most consistent associations with cognitive function were vitamin A, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin K, and lutein and zeaxanthin. In females, certain nutrients showed consistent inverse associations with depression scores, suggesting that sufficient intakes of these essential nutrients can have a positive impact on mental health as well.

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Practical Implications and Future Research

The findings from the COSMOS study carry practical implications for older adults, particularly those with lower quality diets. Incorporating cocoa flavanols into their daily supplement regimen could potentially improve cognitive function. However, it is essential to note that these findings do not suggest a substitute for a healthy diet but rather point to a potential strategy for enhancing cognitive health among those who struggle with dietary quality.

The relationship between nutrient intake and cognitive function, as well as the potential cognitive benefits of cocoa flavanols, calls for further research. Future studies should consider the interactions between dietary patterns, individual nutrients, and cognitive health. This would help to better understand the mechanisms underlying these relationships and develop more effective nutritional interventions for cognitive health in older adults.

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