Acute cocoa flavanol improves cerebral oxygenation without enhancing executive function at rest or after exercise

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Dec;41(12):1225-1232. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0245. Epub 2016 Aug 5.


Acute exercise-induced improvements in cognitive function are accompanied by increased (cerebral) blood flow and increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. Acute cocoa flavanol (CF) intake may improve cognitive function, cerebral blood flow (in humans), and BNDF levels (in animals). This study investigated (i) the effect of CF intake in combination with exercise on cognitive function and (ii) cerebral hemodynamics and BDNF in response to CF intake and exercise. Twelve healthy men participated in this randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Participants performed a cognitive task (CT) at 100 min after acute 903-mg CF or placebo (PL) intake, followed by a 30-min time-trial. Immediately after this exercise, the same CT was performed. Prefrontal near-infrared spectroscopy was applied during CT and exercise to measure changes in oxygenated (ΔHbO2), deoxygenated (ΔHHb), and total haemoglobin (ΔHbtot) and blood samples were drawn and analyzed for BDNF. Reaction time was faster postexercise, but was not influenced by CF. ΔHbO2 during the resting CT was increased by CF, compared with PL. ΔHbO2, ΔHHb, and ΔHbtot increased in response to exercise without any effect of CF. During the postexercise cognitive task, there were no hemodynamic differences between CF or PL. Serum BDNF was increased by exercise, but was not influenced by CF. In conclusion, at rest, CF intake increased cerebral oxygenation, but not BDNF concentrations, and no impact on executive function was detected. This beneficial effect of CF on cerebral oxygenation at rest was overruled by the strong exercise-induced increases in cerebral perfusion and oxygenation.

Keywords: BDNF; NIRS; cerebral hemodynamics; cocoa flavanol; cognition; exercice physique; exercise; flavanols de cacao; hémodynamique cérébrale.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Bicycling
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Chocolate* / analysis
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Executive Function*
  • Exercise*
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use*
  • Functional Food* / analysis
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Hemoglobins / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Nootropic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Nootropic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Physical Fitness
  • Rest
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Flavonoids
  • Hemoglobins
  • Nootropic Agents
  • flavan-3-ol
  • BDNF protein, human