Why is chocolate good for your brain?
Studies suggest a diet rich in flavonoids, compounds in fruit, vegetables, coffee, tea and chocolate, could reduce the decline in mental function associated with age.
References for cocoa and flavonoid's health benefits
Cocoa and cardiovascular health.
Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Lüscher TF.
Circulation. 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41. Links
Epidemiological data demonstrate that regular dietary intake of plant-derived foods and beverages reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Among many ingredients, cocoa might be an important mediator. Indeed, recent research demonstrates a beneficial effect of cocoa on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and platelet function. Although still debated, a range of potential mechanisms through which cocoa might exert its benefits on cardiovascular health have been proposed, including activation of nitric oxide and antioxidant and antiinflammatory effects. This review summarizes the available data on the cardiovascular effects of cocoa, outlines potential mechanisms involved in the response to cocoa, and highlights the potential clinical implications associated with its consumption.
Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period
Amercian Journal Epidemiology. 2007 Jun 15;165(12):1364-71. Epub 2007 Mar 16.
Letenneur L, Proust-Lima C, Le Gouge A, Dartigues JF, Barberger-Gateau P.
In the PAQUID (Personnes Agées Quid) study, the authors prospectively examined flavonoid intake in relation to cognitive function and decline among subjects aged 65 years or older. A total of 1,640 subjects free from dementia at baseline in 1990 and with reliable dietary assessment were reexamined four times over a 10-year period. Cognitive functioning was assessed through three psychometric tests (Mini-Mental State Examination, Benton's Visual Retention Test, "Isaacs" Set Test) at each visit. Information on flavonoid intake was collected at baseline. A linear mixed model was used to analyze the evolution of cognitive performance according to quartiles of flavonoid intake. After adjustment for age, sex, and educational level, flavonoid intake was associated with better cognitive performance at baseline (p = 0.019) and with a better evolution of the performance over time (p = 0.046). Subjects included in the two highest quartiles of flavonoid intake had better cognitive evolution than did subjects in the lowest quartile. After 10 years' follow-up, subjects with the lowest flavonoid intake had lost on average 2.1 points on the Mini-Mental State Examination, whereas subjects with the highest quartile had lost 1.2 points. This gradient persisted after adjustment for several other potential confounders. This study raises the possibility that dietary flavonoid intake is associated with better cognitive evolution.
Aging and vascular responses to flavanol-rich cocoa.
Fisher NDL, Hollenberg NK. Aging and vascular responses to flavanol-rich cocoa.
Journal of Hypertension. 2006;24:1575-1580.
OBJECTIVES: Strong evidence has secured aging as a powerful predictor of both cardiovascular risk and endothelial dysfunction, yet specific treatment is not available. We tested the hypothesis that vascular responsiveness to flavanol-rich cocoa increases with advancing age. We have previously shown that flavanol-rich cocoa induced peripheral vasodilation, improving endothelial function via a nitric oxide (NO)-dependent mechanism.
METHODS: We studied blood pressure and peripheral arterial responses to several days of cocoa in 15 young (< 50 years) and 19 older (> 50) healthy subjects. RESULTS: The nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitor N(omega)-nitro-L-arginine-methyl-ester (L-NAME) induced significant pressor responses following cocoa administration only among the older subjects: systolic blood pressure (SBP) rose 13 +/- 4 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure (DBP) 6 +/- 2 mmHg (P = 0.008 and 0.047, respectively); SBP was significantly higher in the older subjects (P < 0.05). Flow-mediated vasodilation, measured by tonometry in the finger, was enhanced with flavanol-rich cocoa in both groups, but significantly more so among the old (P = 0.01). Finally, basal pulse wave amplitude (PWA) followed a similar pattern. Four to six days of flavanol-rich cocoa caused a rise in PWA in both groups. At peak vasodilation following acute cocoa intake on the final day, both groups showed a further, significant rise in PWA. The response in the older subjects was more robust; P < 0.05. L-NAME significantly reversed dilation in both groups.
CONCLUSIONS: Flavanol-rich cocoa enhanced several measures of endothelial function to a greater degree among older than younger healthy subjects. Our data suggest that the NO-dependent vascular effects of flavanol-rich cocoa may be greater among older people, in whom endothelial function is more disturbed.
Antidepressant-like effects of a cocoa polyphenolic extract in Wistar-Unilever rats.
Messaoudi M, Bisson JF, Nejdi A, Rozan P, Javelot H.
Nutritional Neuroscience. 2008 Dec;11(6):269-76.
Depression is a major public health problem affecting about 12% of the world population. Drugs exist but they have many side effects. In the last few years, natural substances (e.g. flavonoids) have been tested to cure such disorders. Cocoa polyphenolic extract is a complex compound prepared from non-roasted cocoa beans containing high levels of flavonoids. The antidepressant-like effect of cocoa polyphenolic extract was evaluated using the forced swimming test in rats. Cocoa polyphenolic extract significantly reduced the duration of immobility at both doses of 24 mg/kg/14 days and 48 mg/kg/14 days, although no change of motor dysfunction was observed with the two doses tested in the open field. The results of the forced swimming test after a subchronic treatment and after an additional locomotor activity test confirm the assumption that the antidepressant-like effect of cocoa polyphenolic extract in the forced swimming test model is specific. Further, it can be speculated that this effect might be related to its content of active polyphenols.