The ingredient is flavanols, which are nutrients found in cocoa. Flavanols are considered to act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories on cells. These chemicals can protect cells and tissue from damage, which in turn protects against heart disease and cancer.
The research and similar studies were funded by Mars Inc., the maker of Snickers and other foods.
"The totality of the research on cocoa flavanols is impressive. This is just one more study adding to an increasing body of literature connecting regular cocoa flavanol consumption to blood flow and vascular health improvements throughout the body," according to news release comments from Harold Schmitz, chief science officer at Mars.
Schmitz says that flavanol-rich drinks or foods could be created to help slow brain decline as people age.
This study rounded up 34 healthy 59- to 83-year-olds. The average age was 72. None of the participants was a smoker or had diabetes or high blood pressure.
The participants were told to drink a special cocoa drink twice a day. Some drank a high-flavanol drink (450 milligrams). The other group got a low-flavanol drink (18 milligrams).
Flavanol and Blood Flow
After one week, blood flow measures increased 8% in the group that got the flavanol-rich drinks. After two weeks that went up to a 10% increase.
When comparing participants drinking the high-flavanol cocoa to those who drank the low-flavanol cocoa, there was an increase in measured blood flow.
The findings are published in the journal Neuropychiatric Disease and Treatment.