A (long) while back I promised to blog about my various supplements for anyone else who is interested in brain health and in potentially delaying or preventing cognitive decline. I talked about one of the most important ones, in my view: DHA (preferably in phospholipid form). Next, I talked about by second daily supplement, Theracurmin.
Today I want to talk briefly about the third supplement I take on a daily basis: cocoa flavanols. Flavanols are just one class of beneficial chemicals called flavonoids, which are also found in tea, red wine, grapes, citrus fruits, berries, and apples, among other plant sources. Flavonoids are thought to have a number of medical benefits, including anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects, as well as neuro-protective and cardio-protective effects.
There is a paucity of well-conducted clinical trials looking at cocoa flavanols in the prevention of dementia in younger, healthier people. However, there was one small double-blind, parallel arm study in 90 elderly people who already had mild cognitive impairment in which investigators randomized some to consume (once daily for 8 weeks) a drink containing approximately 990 mg (high flavanols), approximately 520 mg (intermediate flavanols), or approximately 45 mg (low flavanols) of cocoa flavanols per day. At the end of 8 weeks, they found that the people who drank the intermediate and high amounts of flavanols improved their verbal fluency test scores as well as visual search and processing speeds, and also had improvements in insulin resistance and blood pressure, and decreased lipid peroxidation (oxidative degradation of lipids).
Everyone thinks that dark chocolate is good for you because it contains these beneficial flavonoids. But the amount of dark chocolate that you’d have to eat each day to reach the amount that has been shown in clinical trials to have a benefit on cognition (about 500mg per day, as above) varies greatly depending on brand and percent cacao in the chocolate, but for example would be on the order of 136 grams (4.8 ounces) of Lindt Excellence Supreme Dark 90% Cocoa, which translates to more than one large 3.5 ounce bar. The total calories in 4.8 ounces of Lindt 90% dark chocolate required to achieve 500mg of flavanols would be 816 calories per day. (Thank you, ConsumerLab.com, for the detailed analysis of flavonoid-containing cocoa and chocolate products!)
I do enjoy a few squares of dark chocolate for the pleasure of it (my favorite is Endangered Species brand “Strong + Velvety” 88% dark chocolate), but I choose to get the majority of my cocoa flavanols in concentrated pill form by brand CocoaVia. I take 2 capsules of the CocoaVia Memory+, which contain 500mg of cocoa flavanols (the package says that a serving is 3 capsules, which would be 750mg of flavanols, but since the study I referenced above showed a benefit from 520mg daily, I choose to save a little money by only taking 2 capsules per day). If you choose to get your flavanols from a different source, be careful: many sources of chocolate and cocoa powder contain high amount of poisonous cadmium, and Dutch processing will lower the amount of flavanols by 60-90%. I highly recommend a subscription to ConsumerLab.com, who assess the scientific data supporting the use of a wide variety of supplements and give that information to you as a consumer, and also independently test various brands of supplements in their own lab both for contaminants (such as cadmium in cocoa) as well as to ensure the product actually contains the amount of beneficial chemicals it claims to contain. For example, they tested CocoaVia Memory+ and found that it actually contained 993.1 mg of flavanols in 3 capsules (significantly more than the 750mg promised on the label).
If this is helpful to you, please comment and let me know! I’ll keep posting information Like this if it’s valuable to you. And please share with anyone you know who may be interested in preserving their brain health.
Cheers to our health and well-being!