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Cocoa Improves Eye and Brain Function

May 06, 2011

improves brain power and vision in young adults

A new study from researchers at the University of Reading claims that consumption of cocoa flavanols may improve aspects of eye and brain function. Real, unprocessed contains a particularly high concentration of flavanols, and in recent years there has been an increasing interest in the health benefits of flavanol-containing foods.

Writing in the journal, Physiology & Behavior, the authors said their findings show that performance on vision tests in healthy young adults and some aspects of cognitive performance can be improved by consuming enough cocoa flavanols (CF). Improvements in visual function were observed approximately 2.5 hours after CF consumption, added the team, which is based at Reading University’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.

“As well as extending the range of cognitive tasks that are known to be influenced by CF consumption, this is the first report of acute effects of CF on the efficiency of visual function,” note the authors. The researchers said that intake of CF has previously been shown to influence hemodynamics blood flow), increasing both central and peripheral blood flow (central = the brain and peripheral = the rest of the body).

The researchers’ theory is that the acute effects may be explained by increased cerebral blood flow caused by CF, although “in the case of contrast sensitivity there may be an additional contribution from CF induced retinal blood flow changes.” Visual contrast sensitivity was assessed by reading numbers that became progressively more similar in luminance to their background, said the researchers.

Motion sensitivity was assessed firstly by measuring the threshold proportion of coherently moving signal dots that could be detected against a background of random motion, and also by determining the minimum time required to detect motion direction in a display containing a high proportion of coherent motion.

Cognitive performance was assessed using a visual spatial working memory for location task and a choice reaction time task designed to engage processes of sustained attention and inhibition.

Relative to the control condition, CF improved visual contrast sensitivity and reduced the time required to detect motion direction, reported the team. “In terms of cognitive performance, CF improved spatial memory and performance on some aspects of the choice reaction time task,” they found. “A reduction in the time required to integrate visual motion could be beneficial in time critical everyday tasks, such as driving. The effect on the simpler early phase of the choice reaction time task suggests that CF can increase response speed in simple tasks,” note the authors, when evaluating the value of the findings. The researchers added that as this initial investigation was only focused on the potential influence of CF on visual function in young adults, they are conducting a follow up study on their findings with older adults.

Source: The study is published online ahead of print in the journal Physiology & Behaviour.