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


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 ($Δ$HbO2), deoxygenated ($Δ$HHb), and total haemoglobin ($Δ$Hbtot) and blood samples were drawn and analyzed for BDNF. Reaction time was faster postexercise, but was not influenced by CF. $Δ$HbO2 during the resting CT was increased by CF, compared with PL. $Δ$HbO2, $Δ$HHb, and $Δ$Hbtot 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.

Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism