Chocolate Really Is Brain Food
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.