Consume chocolate; stay sharp?

Melissa Pandika / Los Angeles Times /

Older chocoholics may have a new excuse to indulge their cravings: The dark stuff not only soothes the soul, but it might also sharpen the mind.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, researchers reported that chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills in the elderly. The Boston-based team found that older people who initially performed poorly on a memory and reasoning test and also had reduced blood flow to their brains showed improvement after drinking two cups of cocoa every day for a month.

The researchers had set out to test whether chocolate could increase blood flow to the brain during problem solving, boosting performance, after finding in earlier studies that consuming chocolate high in the antioxidant flavanol was associated with better brain and blood vessel functioning. They randomly assigned subjects to drink either flavanol-rich or flavanol-poor hot chocolate.

To the scientists’ surprise, there weren’t significant differences in the neurovascular or cognitive changes between the flavanol-rich and flavanol-poor groups — suggesting that something else in the chocolate was causing the improvements.