chocolate, cocoa
New research shows that flavanols- certain antioxidants present in cocoa, can help retain cognitive health at old age.Steven Depolo/Flickr

Here is another reason to feast on your favourite treat-chocolate!

New research shows that flavanols- certain antioxidants present in cocoa, can help retain cognitive health in old age.

Researchers from the University of L'Aquila in Italy and Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science basically concentrated on the effects of cocoa flavanols on healthy individuals aged between 61 and 85. Only participants without any cognitive impairment were selected for the analysis.

During the two- month study period, the participants took drinks with different levels of cocoa flavanols – high (993 mg), intermediate (520 mg) or low (48 mg).

Memory, recall, retention and executive function were tested before and after the study. Participants in the first two groups- high and intermediate- showed considerable improvement in cognitive function than the third group who took a drink low in cocoa.

"The results of this study are encouraging—they support the idea that diet, and specifically a diet rich in cocoa flavanols, can play an important role in maintaining cognitive health as we age," lead author of the study, Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, said in a news release.

Cardiometabolic markers like insulin resistance and blood pressure improved in the first two groups. Researchers assumed that these physical benefits provided by cocoa may be helping the brain.

"Earlier studies suggest a central role for insulin resistance in brain aging," Desideri, said. "These results could therefore provide some insight into a possible mechanism of action for the cognitive improvements we have observed."

Similarly, in 2012, the same team showed that dietary cocoa flavanols provided cognitive and cardiometabolic benefits to patients affected with mild cognitive impairment.

The new study has been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Research in the past has shown similar results. A study reported in October last year found that drinking a high- cocoa-flavanol drink for three months improved memory and protected against memory decline in old people. Studies also have highlighted cocoa's role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.

Apart from cocoa, flavanols can be found in teas, red wine, apples and grapes. Data shows that these antioxidants can also help prevent blood clots, bad cholesterol, depression and anxiety.