Chocolate on My Mind

April 10, 2015

By Medical Discovery News


Peanuts creator Charles Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” New research shows he might be right. In one study, certain compounds in cocoa called flavanols reversed age-related memory problems.

Flavanols, found in a variety of plants, are potent antioxidants that help cells in the body deal with free radicals. Free radicals arise from normal cellular processes as well as from exposure to environmental contaminants, especially cigarette smoke. Unless your body gets rid of free radicals, they can damage proteins, lipids, and even your genetic information. You can get flavanols from tea, red wine, berries, cocoa, and chocolate. Flavanols are what give cocoa that strong, bitter, and pungent taste. Cocoa is processed through fermentation, alkalization, and roasting among other methods, which can influence how much of the good flavanols are lost. Among the products made from cocoa, those with the highest levels of flavanol are cocoa powders not processed by the Dutch method, followed by unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate and semi-sweet chips, then milk chocolate, and finally chocolate syrup contained the least.

In the latest study, a cocoa drink specially formulated by the Mars food company to retain flavanols was compared with another drink that contained very little flavanols. The study asked 37 randomly selected adults aged 50 to 69 to take one of the drinks. One group consumed 900 milligrams per day of flavanols and the others consumed only 10 milligrams per day for three months. Brain imaging and memory tests were administered before and after the trial.

Those who consumed the high levels of cocoa flavanols had better brain function and improved memories. Before the study, the subjects on average demonstrated the memory of a typical 60-year-old person. At the end, those who consumed more flavanols exhibited the memory capabilities more closely resembling a 30- to 40-year-old. Unfortunately, the average candy bar contains only about 40 milligrams of flavanol, so you would have to eat 23 of them a day to equal the amount of flavanol used in the study, which would lead to other health problems like obesity and diabetes.

Other studies have similarly revealed that high-flavanol cocoa beverages cause regional changes in the brain’s blood flow, suggesting that it could be used to treat vascular impairments within the brain. Flavanols have also been reported to reduce blood pressure and other factors that lead to cardiovascular disease, improve insulin sensitivity, modulate platelet activity thereby reducing the risk of blood clots, and improve the activities of the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. The Kuna indians living on the San Blas Islands near Panama, who consume a type of cocoa rich in flavanol on a daily basis, have unusually low rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

These studies need to be repeated with larger groups to confirm the benefits of consuming flavanols and to ensure that there are no negative effects. Still, if a cocoa beverage high in flavanols could be mass produced and marketed, we could improve human health in a very tasty way.

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Keep Your Dark Chocolate Addiction

By Medical Discovery News

Aug. 18, 2012

Cocoa pods

Though word has spread that eating dark chocolate is good for the heart, a new report offers suggestions on just how much a person should eat. Using mathematical modeling, the study indicates 3.5 ounces or 100 grams of dark chocolate a day reduces the odds of heart attacks and strokes in people at high risk. That’s a medium-sized bar containing a minimum of 70 percent cocoa.

Researchers from Monash University in Australia predict eating this amount of chocolate daily over a 10-year period would prevent 70 nonfatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people. Their study, published in the “British Medical Journal,” reaffirms dark chocolate’s ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which can be attributed to flavonoids found in high amounts in cacao beans.

Don’t be confused by the term cacao since that’s the original name of the bean, which comes from the Theobroma cacao tree. Over time, cacao became anglicized and began to be replaced with the term cocoa. The terms are interchangeable, yet the beans are technically cacao beans and the processed powder and butter derived from the beans are called cocoa.

Processed cocoa products do not contain the heart healthy flavonoids found in raw cacao beans. Unprocessed cacao has a strong, pungent taste that when fermented and alkalized loses more and more flavonoids with each step. Most of the heavily processed cocoa products also contain high amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars, so it’s important to look for chocolate devoid of these ingredients and with at least 70 percent cocoa.

Eating a chocolate bar each day is probably not realistic, which is fine since many other foods also contain flavonoids, such as many fruits and vegetables and certain beverages including tea, coffee, beer, and wine. Over 4,000 flavonoids are known and some studies suggest this antioxidant has antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.

During normal cellular activity, cells produce or are exposed to what are called reactive oxygen species, a type of free radical. A radical is an atom or group of atoms that have one or more unpaired electrons. Even though they’re formed as a necessary component in a variety of normal biochemical reactions, in excess, they damage cells, especially molecules in them that carry genetic information. Oxidant damage has been linked to cancer, aging, cardiovascular disease, ischemic injury, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

According to the Monash study, choosing to consume quality dark chocolate in combination with exercise and other healthy foods can help someone at high risk possibly avoid a heart attack or stroke.  Researchers calculated that investing just $42 per person per year on dark chocolate related health strategies including advertising and promotion can significantly reduce a population’s cardiovascular risks. The findings could be valuable to a country such as Australia where 30 percent of its population are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

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