Most people hear about the healing power of chocolate and they have a mixed reaction of joy and skepticism. We seem to know, on an intuitive level, that cocoa and chocolate are good for us. However, the way in which it is prepared adds a lot of milk, lactides, and sugar which detract from the elixir-like qualities of the naturally occurring substance. Yet, there are more and more studies that show the potential health benefits of chocolate, including its brain boosting power.
In a recent study “Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people” by Dr.’s Sorond, Hurwitz, Salat, Greve, and Fisher, showed a promising corollary between cocoa consumption and cognitive function.
The study, published on Neurology.org, took 60 older people (aged 72.9 +/- 5.4 years) and compared, in a double blind test, whether weak or strong flavanols in cocoa improved neurological function. Flavanols are a type of polyphenol — antioxidants found in foods like cocoa, tea, berries, and wine. Foods rich in these compounds have been shown to benefit heart and brain health in the past.
The participants were tested for memory and cognitive function before and after adding cocoa to their diet. The participants were also given a form of ultrasound in order to measure the blood flow in the brain. The tests were conducted after 24 hours and again after 30 days of consumption.
While the greatest evidence was shown with participants who started with compromised blood flow to the brain, there was an increase in all participants after both 24 hours and 30 days of the trial. Those that had started with compromised blood flow showed an improvement of about 8% in the blood flow to the brain, as well as a drop in time for them to complete a working memory test from 167 sec to 116 sec.
“We’re learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effects on thinking skills,” study author Farzaneh A. Sorond told Forbes contributor Alice G. Walton. “As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
“How cocoa results in improved neurovascular coupling, we don’t know,” Sorond said. “We also don’t know what it is in cocoa that is beneficial; is it the flavanols, the caffeine, the theobromine? In our study there was no difference between the flavanol poor and rich compounds in terms of benefit. Does this mean the flavanols are not important or does it mean that just a little bit of flavanol is enough?”
The amazing thing about plants is that they are natures perfect chemical factories. They make compounds that are balanced and proportional for the other organisms in its environment. Science’s quest to isolate the one thing that helps, more often than not leads to an imbalance in the chemistry of the body. Here we have the beginning of more studies to show that there is a direct connection between cocoa and brain health. The naturally occurring compounds in their naturally occurring order and proportion may be the ideal arrangement. Perhaps we are coming into an understanding of what nature has created for building cognitive function. It is sure that many will be delighted to note chocolate’s brain boosting power in any case.
Written By: Iam Bloom