Chocolate for Brain Function! Yea!

August 16, 2012

A lot of attention has been focused on the health benefits of cocoa.  Rich in anti-oxidants, flavanoids and flavanols, it's no surprise that interest in these power-packed beans is peaking!  Two recent studies show that the attention is well worth it! Every year, over six percent of adults who are 70 years or older develop memory loss that can progress to dementia or Alzheimer's disease. It is believed that flavanols, found in tea, grapes, red wine, apples and cocoa are associated with a decreased risk of dementia by acting on the brain structure and protecting neurons from injury. Flavanols may also help by improving brain blood flow.  a; One study, published in the journal Hypertension and substatiated by the European Food Safety Association, included 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment.  Study participants drank a cocoa drink that had high, medium, or low amounts of antioxidants called flavanols for eight weeks. Additionally, diet was restricted to eliminate other sources of flavanols. Researchers found that those who drank high and medium levels of flavanols in their cocoa outperformed those who consumed low doses in tests that involved the ability to relate visual stimuli to motor responses, working memory, task-switching and verbal memory. The study also indicated a decrease in insulin resistance, blood pressure and oxidative stress in those drinking high and intermediate levels of flavanols daily. A different study looked at another interesting benefit of cocoa, the study included 24 female volunteers between ages 18 and 65 who agreed to include hot chocolate with their breakfast for 12 weeks.  Half the women drank hot cocoa containing a high dose of flavonoids, while the remaining volunteers got cocoa that looked and tasted the same but that had a much lower amount of flavonoids. A test was conducted at the beginning and end of the trial that involved exposing each woman's skin to ultraviolet light. Researchers found that the skin of the women who had received the flavonoid-rich cocoa did not redden as much as the skin of women who drank the lower-flavonoid-poor beverage. Additionally, significant increases in density and thickness of the skin occurred  for the women receiving the higher amount of flavonoid. Did I mention their skin was also smoother? Don't run out for your favorite candy bar yet!  Not all forms of chocolate have hight flavanol levels. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Although many believe that dark chocolate contains the highest levels flavanols, methods of processing are a determining factor. Your best choices are dark chocolate and cocoa powder that has not undergone 'Dutch' processing where it is treated with an alkali. So let go of the guilt. You can enjoy moderate portions of dark, cocoa-rich chocolate a few times per week ... it can actually be good for you!  

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