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Cocoa flavanols, exercise and the brain

Abstract : Sports performance depends on physical factors, but also on cognitive functioning. Nutritional supplements as potential ergogenic aids can impact muscle, but also the brain. Cocoa flavanols (CF) have antioxidant capacities, can stimulate vascular function, and potentially enhance cognitive function. CF intake might thus improve exercise performance and recovery by reducing oxidative stress, increasing NO availability and/or boosting cognitive function. It is the purpose of this PhD to identify the effects of CF on physical and cognitive performance in healthy athletes at sea level and altitude, as well as in patients with type 1 diabetes. Our systematic review showed that CF can reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress, but without improving exercise performance. Combining CF intake and exercise training improves cardiovascular risk factors and vascular function in healthy and overweight participants, but evidence on the synergistic effects of CF and exercise training on oxidative stress, inflammation and fat and glucose metabolism is lacking.In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind cross-over study, we showed that 900 mg CF intake increased prefrontal oxygenation in athletes, but without affecting executive function. BDNF was not affected by CF intake. The effects of high-intensity exercise largely overruled the effects of CF intake: large beneficial effects of exercise on prefrontal oxygenation and cognitive function were observed and CF supplementation did not enlarge these effects. In a 2nd study, the effect of acute CF intake (530 mg CF) on performance on a demanding cognitive test was assessed in normoxia and hypoxia (simulated altitude 4000 m). Electroencephalogram and fNIRS were used to analyse neuronal activity and hemodynamic changes. Acute CF intake improved the neurovascular response, but did not affect neuronal activity and cognitive performance in normoxia and hypoxia. Most cognitive functions, the cerebrovascular response and neuronal activity, were not altered in hypoxia in healthy subjects. In a 3rd study, we found that acute intake of 900 mg CF enhanced cognitive performance on the Flanker test in patients with type 1 diabetes, and their healthy matched controls. CF intake increased the BOLD response in brain areas activated during this specific task. While cognitive performance was not deteriorated in patients with type 1 diabetes, a different brain activation pattern during the cognitive task was observed, compared to healthy controls and this brain activation pattern was altered by CF intake. To conclude, acute CF intake improves prefrontal oxygenation and cerebrovascular responsiveness. This can be associated with better cognitive function in patients with type 1 diabetes, but does not result in improved executive function in healthy persons. Compared to exercise, the magnitude of the CF-induced neurovascular changes is small.Two studies were conducted examining the effects of CF on exercise-induced oxidative stress, NO availability and its implications for exercise performance, in well-trained cyclists. We found that acute CF (900 mg) improved the exercise-induced increase in total antioxidant capacity, but did not reduce the exercise-induced increase in lipid peroxidation. One week CF intake (530 mg CF) improved vascular function at rest, and prefrontal oxygenation at rest and during low-intensity exercise, but did not influence muscular oxygenation. One week CF intake partially restored the hypoxia-induced decline in prefrontal oxygenation during rest and low-intensity exercise, but not during high-intensity exercise. One week CF intake reduced exercise-induced lipid peroxidation, but did not alter total antioxidant capacity. Both acute and 1-week CF intake did not improve exercise performance and recovery and do not change NO production during exercise (in normoxia and hypoxia) in well-trained athletes.
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Lieselot Decroix. Cocoa flavanols, exercise and the brain. Human health and pathology. Université du Droit et de la Santé - Lille II, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018LIL2S004⟩. ⟨tel-01959196⟩

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