The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on cerebral perfusion in healthy older adults during conscious resting state: a placebo controlled, crossover, acute trial

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Sep;232(17):3227-34. doi: 10.1007/s00213-015-3972-4. Epub 2015 Jun 7.


Rationale: There has recently been increasing interest in the potential of flavanols, plant-derived compounds found in foods such as fruit and vegetables, to ameliorate age-related cognitive decline. Research suggests that cocoa flavanols improve memory and learning, possibly as a result of their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. These effects may be mediated by increased cerebral blood flow (CBF), thus, stimulating neuronal function.

Objectives: The present study employed arterial spin labelling functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the effect of a single acute dose of cocoa flavanols on regional CBF.

Methods: CBF was measured pre- and post-consumption of low (23 mg) or high (494 mg) 330 ml equicaloric flavanol drinks matched for caffeine, theobromine, taste and appearance according to a randomized counterbalanced crossover double-blind design in eight males and ten females, aged 50-65 years. Changes in perfusion from pre- to post-consumption were calculated as a function of each drink.

Results: Significant increases in regional perfusion across the brain were observed following consumption of the high flavanol drink relative to the low flavanol drink, particularly in the anterior cingulate cortex and the central opercular cortex of the parietal lobe.

Conclusions: Consumption of cocoa flavanol improves regional cerebral perfusion in older adults. This provides evidence for a possible acute mechanism by which cocoa flavanols are associated with benefits for cognitive performance.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Beverages
  • Cacao / chemistry*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Flavonols / pharmacology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parietal Lobe / blood supply
  • Parietal Lobe / drug effects
  • Polyphenols
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Theobromine


  • Flavonols
  • Polyphenols
  • Theobromine