May 10, 2019

Chocolate and Your Brain

Italian scientists have found evidence that a daily dose of cocoa acts as a dietary supplement to counteract different types of cognitive decline. The team found that regularly eating cocoa was linked to improvements in working memory and visual information processing and cocoa could be particularly beneficial for certain people.

Cocoa is the dried and fermented bean from the cocoa tree used to make chocolate treats. Over the years, it has been found that a range of naturally occurring chemicals in the cocoa bean have therapeutic effects. For example, polyphenols in dark chocolate were found to increase calmness and contentedness and flavanols were able to reverse age-related memory decline. Chocolate also contains theobromine, a toxic chemical, but to be at risk of poisoning yourself, you would have to eat about 85 full sized chocolate bars in one sitting.

In the study, the team looked through the literature for effects of acute and chronic administration of cocoa flavanols on brain activity and, more specifically, what happens if you do this over a long period of time. The studies used to perform the review mainly required the subjects to consume a low, medium or large amount of cocoa in the form of a chocolate drink or bar for a period of between five days and three months.

The scientists found that there was enough evidence to support the health claims attributed to cocoa, and, in particular, the flavanol compounds it contains. They noticed enhancements in working memory performance and improved visual information processing after consuming cocoa flavanols. The benefits varied depending on the demographic being tested.

For the elderly, long term ingestion of cocoa flavanols improved attention, mental processing, working memory, and verbal fluency. It was most beneficial in those who had mild cognitive impairments or the beginnings of memory loss.

For healthy people, without the beginnings of memory loss, cocoa could also enhance normal cognitive functioning and have a protective role on cognitive performance.

For women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation counteracted the cognitive impairment associated with no sleep. Promising results for people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work different shift patterns.

"If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume. This structure is particularly affected by ageing and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans."

"Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time," said the researchers.

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