Cocoa flavanols protect humans against vascular disease, as evidenced by improvements in peripheral endothelial function, likely through nitric oxide signalling. Emerging evidence also suggests that flavanol-rich diets protect against cognitive aging, but mechanisms remain elusive. In a randomized double-blind within-subject acute study in healthy young adults, we link these two lines of research by showing, for the first time, that flavanol intake leads to faster and greater brain oxygenation responses to hypercapnia, as well as higher performance only when cognitive demand is high. Individual difference analyses further show that participants who benefit from flavanols intake during hypercapnia are also those who do so in the cognitive challenge. These data support the hypothesis that similar vascular mechanisms underlie both the peripheral and cerebral effects of flavanols. They further show the importance of studies combining physiological and graded cognitive challenges in young adults to investigate the actions of dietary flavanols on brain function.
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