Did you know that cacao tree was named Theobroma de cacao in the eighteenth century by Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, which means “food of the gods”? The history of chocolate began in Mesoamerica; archaeological research shows that people have been enjoying cacao products in North America for 1,200 years. The Maya also attributed the discovering of cacao to the gods, but it made their blood flow in a different kind of way: they sacrificed animals to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.
Does chocolate make you smarter? According to a new study just published in the journal of Neurology, elderly people may benefit from enjoying chocolate. Specifically, the results have shown that elderly people with reduced blood flow to their brains had an improvement regarding their neurovascular functioning and cognitive performance after consuming two cups of hot chocolate every day for a month.
Although chocolate contains high levels of sugar and fats and is therefore not recommended for regular eating, especially in high amounts, studies show that there is something in the cocoa that contributes to healthy brains. This latest study supports that claim.
A Boston research team at Harvard Medical School compared neurovascular and cognitive functioning test results of 60 people with an average age of 73 who did not have dementia. Memory capacities and reasoning were assessed through a person’s ability to recognize patterns in a series of letters on a computer screen. Neurovascular ultrasound and MRI assessment focused on the blood flow to the brain and on the brain’s white matter. Initial tests performed at the beginning of the study linked reduced blood flow and greater white matter damage to poorer cognitive performance, and vice versa.
Tests were repeated after a month of daily consuming two cups of hot chocolate. Some of the participants were given flavanol-rich and others flavanol-poor hot chocolate. The aim was to test the study’s findings. which showed that antioxidant flavanol is beneficial for brain functioning.
Although the sample of this study was small, the results provided some interesting insights for deeper research. The benefits from consuming hot chocolate were limited to the group of participants whose initial test results were poor. Their blood flow had improved by approximately 8%, and reactions on cognitive tasks were faster by about one minute. Results for the those who performed well in initial tests remained almost the same. An unexpected result showed that there were no significant differences on any of the test results between people who consumed flavanol-rich from those that consumed, flavanol-poor chocolate. This begs the question, exactly what is the substance from cocoa that has a healthy effect on the brain? Neurologist Dr. Farzaneh A. Sorond, the leading author of this study, plans to design further research in order to try to answer this question.
Meanwhile, she underlines that during the study, researchers controlled the nutritional value of the participants’ diet in order to balance the amount of fat and sugar added through the hot chocolate they consumed on a daily basis, and recommended additional physical activity for keeping the brain fit.
It seems that chocolate has the ability to make your blood flow and possibly many other benefits as well. If you are a chocolate lover, it could be ‘smart’ to add some to your daily routine. The ‘food of the gods’ may well be the food of the humans as well, leading us down the path toward greater cognitive advancement.
By: Milica Zujko