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Chocolate Really Is Brain Food

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Here’s reason to nibble chocolate or sip cocoa. Research shows that compounds called flavanols, found in some dark, minimally-processed forms of cocoa, improve blood flow to the brain.

In one study, British researchers gave healthy young adults a special, flavanol-rich chocolate, then measured blood flow to their brains using MRI. Blood flow was significantly increased after either five days of 150 mg a day or a one-time dose of 450 mg of cocoa flavanols. Based on these results, the researchers suggest that cocoa flavanols have potential in the treatment of age-related vascular impairment, including dementia and strokes. (Francis, ST Et al. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol 2006;47 Suppl 2 S:221-223)

In another study, Harvard Medical School researchers found that people age 50 or older who drank several cups daily of flavanol-rich cocoa had a “striking blood flow response” that evolved over several weeks — a 10-15% increase in blood flow to the brain. “Since this cocoa preparation is so well tolerated, it raises hope that the blood flow response it stimulates can result in maintenance of healthy brain function and cognition, which is an issue that unfortunately plagues many older adults today,” said researcher Norman Hollenberg, M.D., Ph.D. (Bayard, V, et al. Internatl J Med Sci 2007;4:53-58.)

Cocoa’s flavanols improve blood vessels’ production of nitric oxide, a biochemical that aids blood vessel dilation. Flavanols also make blood platelets less sticky, reducing the tendency for troublesome clots.

Most commercially processed cocoa and chocolate products have little flavanol content, and not even all dark chocolate is rich in flavanols. Your best bet is to opt for organic dark chocolate, rather than milk chocolate and “Dutch-processed” cocoa.

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7 responses to “Chocolate Really Is Brain Food”

  1. Mina says:

    For more reasons to feel great about eating chocolate, I highly recommend the book, Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie: http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Chocolate-Astoundin…

    The book focuses on the “superfood” qualities of raw, organic chocolate and contains fascinating information about chocolate's history and the science behind its health benefits.

  2. Herbalearth says:

    The book Mina mentioned is a great one worth having. It not only discusses the history of cacao and the benefits of chocolate, it also includes recipes worth testing.

    I'd also like to mention that dark chocolate that is at least 70% or more tend to have more antioxidant content. The more milk or sugar added to the chocolate, the lower in antioxidant content it will be.

  3. This is a fascinating subject. I am interested in the effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure and sleep and have been exploring the arguments for and against on my blog: AdrianZacher.com

  4. […] include quercetin, found in citrus fruits and apples, and epicatechin, found in dark, unprocessed chocolate. There are a wide variety of flavonoids with different properties in foods like pomengranate, […]

  5. […] integrity.” This study did not indicate the cocoa content of the consumed beverage, but past research projects have shown that chocolate products with higher cocoa concentrations (70 percent cocoa or higher) […]

  6. […] integrity.” This study did not indicate the cocoa content of the consumed beverage, but past research projects have shown that chocolate products with higher cocoa concentrations (70 percent cocoa or higher) […]