Those who ate the flavanol-concentrated cacao were better able to defend against the excess carbon dioxide. In other words, the oxygenation process (increasing oxygen, decreasing CO2) was much faster for that group.
More specifically, “the levels of maximal oxygenation were more than three times higher in the high-flavanol cocoa versus the low-flavanol cocoa, and the oxygenation response was about one minute faster,” lead researcher Catarina Rendeiro, Ph.D., said.
When taking cognitive tests, the flavanol-rich group outperformed their baseline performance and the reduced flavanol group by 11 percent.
So, what are flavanols exactly? “Flavanols are small molecules found in many fruits and vegetables, and cocoa, too,” Rendeiro stated. “They give fruits and vegetables their bright colors, and they are known to benefit vascular function.”
Based on these findings, cocoa may support brain health and cognitive functioning in most people. Those who didn’t see improvements (4/18) already had high oxygenation responses prior to the study. “This may indicate that those who are already quite fit have little room for improvement,” Rendeiro said.
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