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2013-08-12

Drinking Chocolate for Brain Health

Okay, so I started the weekend with a chocolate study, and I'll finish with the same. This new study showed that drinking cocoa, whether rich in flavonoids or not, appears to boost the effect of blood flow on neuronal activity in the brain, known as neurovascular coupling (NVC). It also showed that a higher NVC is associated with better cognitive performance (logically) and greater cerebral white matter structural integrity in elderly patients with vascular risk factors.

The double-blind study included 60 participants, with an average age of 72.9 years. About 90% of the participants were hypertensive, but with well-controlled blood pressure, and half had type 2 diabetes with reasonably good control. Three quarters were overweight or obese. Participants were randomly assigned to 2 cups a day of cocoa rich in flavonoids (609 mg per serving) or cocoa with little flavonoids (13 mg per serving), and were also asked to abstain from eating chocolate during the study.

The study showed that NVC was tightly correlated with cognition--the higher the increase in blood flow during a cognitive task, the better the cognitive performance. Makes sense, but this is something that has never been demonstrated before in a controlled clinical setting. Higher NVC was also correlated with better cerebral white matter structural integrity, and less overall less structural damage.

However, the interesting thing is that blood pressure, blood flow, and change in NVC were not significantly different between the 2 cocoa groups. Previously, cocoa flavonoids (specifically the favonols) were shown to be one of the main therapeutic compounds behind many of chocolate's health benefits. However, this study didn't find much benefit and suggests one of two things (or both): 1) a very small amount of flavonoids are need to see a beneficial response, and anything above that doesn't provide any more benefit (which contradicts the dose-response curve seen in previous studies), and/or 2) there are other compounds responsible for the benefits observed (and those who've heard me speak about PQQ for cognitive health may remember me saying that chocolate is one of the best food sources for the nutrient...but there's also theobromine and caffeine, and these are proven to improve cognition as well).

Regardless, I wonder whatever happened to that Chantico Drinking Chocolate that I used to be able to get at Starbucks? I want it back, but with a lot less sweetness. Someone, please...start a petition!

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Source: Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people

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