Hot chocolate enhances memory, modulates immune cells

Sunday, August 18, 2013 by: Lance Johnson
Tags: hot chocolate, memory performance, immune cells

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(NaturalNews) In the August 7th issue of Neurology, scientists at Harvard Medical School suggest that drinking two cups of hot chocolate daily will prevent memory decline in older people. Their investigation sought to discover the benefits of cocoa consumption in relation to memory performance and neurovascular coupling, which is when local brain activity is stimulated by changes in blood flow.

Author Farzaneh A. Sorond leads the way, saying, "As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."

During the investigation, 60 older adults with an average age of 73 were given two cups of hot cocoa to drink for 30 consecutive days. All 60 adults were determined to be dementia-free from the onset and were instructed to not consume any other chocolate products during the experiment.

Nearly a third of participants showed restricted blood flow to the brain

Before the study began, the team of researchers used standard tests to evaluate the participants' thinking and memory skills. As the tests were administered, the team used ultrasound technology to measure neurovascular coupling in the participants brains, documenting where blood flow responded to brain activity.

Their measurements showed that nearly a third of the participants had impaired neurovascular coupling (18 of the 60). MRIs further revealed that participants with impaired neurovascular coupling also showed brain damage to the white matter of their brains. This damage is linked to restricted blood flow.

The researchers also gave participants a working memory speed test. Before the experiment, the group's average time for completion of the speed test was 167 seconds.

With these observations recorded, so the 30 day experiment began.

Impaired neurovascular coupling reduced to only 8.3 percent of participants!

After the 30 day trial, participants who exhibited regular neurovascular coping from the onset, saw no major changes in their working memory, but of the 18 who were impaired - only 5 remained with impaired neurovascular coupling. This significant group improvement brought the impaired group from being one third of the subjects, to only 8.3 percent!

Likewise, the working memory speed test was completed in 116 seconds instead of 167 - a 30 percent group improvement for memory speed!

The study showed that real cocoa has an important positive effect in repairing memory of the elderly, stimulating blood flow to their brains, and speeding up memory performance.

In their summary, the team of Harvard researchers concluded, "There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments. Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity."

Why is cocoa so beneficial?

Dark chocolate cocoa is powerful because of its high polyphenol content, which is a powerful antioxidant, especially when combined with cocoa's methylxanthines, peptides, and dense mineral content. Flavanol-rich cocoa, containing epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins, increases blood flow in specific areas of the brain, preventing dementia and Alzheimer's. Flavanols also exhibits beneficial effects on platelets, improving blood flow and preventing clots. In 2012, The Cochrane Library published 20 trials that found that consuming dark chocolate or cocoa reduced blood pressure.

Cocoa found to modulate immune cells

Cocoa antioxidant effects go beyond what researchers can understand. It has been studied to have a regulatory effect on the immune cells. In vitro, cocoa was found to exert regulatory activity on the secretion of inflammatory mediators from macrophages and similar leucocytes. In rats, cocoa regulates intestinal and systemic immune function, bolstering the T helper 1 response and also increasing intestinal gammadelta T lymphocyte count. Researchers are still trying to figure out how and why cocoa can modulate cell signaling and gene expression.

There is definitely more to be learned from this sweet, dark, bitter natural substance.

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