Cognitive Benefits Of Dark Chocolate And Cocoa

While sweet treats often get a bad rap, typically because of the overwhelming sugar content within, there is some specific benefits that can be obtained when you include dark chocolate and natural cocoa into your diet. While some may argue that having a daily chocolate habit can’t be a good thing, it is as long as the amounts of chocolate consumed aren’t too big and the sugar content isn’t too much. It’s important to note that the options with less sugar are preferred. You can get unsweetened cocoa powder and naturally rich dark chocolate in your grocer’s candy and baking aisle.

A recent study found that overall cognitive function was improved after the daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Researchers have been trying to ascertain what type of acute effect the cocoa flavanols may have on specific cognitive experiences and processes. Italian researchers sought to find out what happens to the brain only a couple of hours after cocoa flavanols are consumed. They also considered what type of cognitive improvements could be measured from daily consumption.

The Trial

A randomized and controlled trial was launched to investigate the improvement of cognitive functions in the face of these cocoa flavanols. Those participants that consumed these flavanols on a continual basis showed noticeable enhancements in their working memory performance as well as increased processing of visual information. For many women, it was found that eating a piece of dark chocolate or consuming hot cocoa after a night of sleep deprivation can counteract the cognitive impairment that occurs. Cognitive impairment in such situations usually looks like less accuracy when performing tasks that require premium focus.

It does need to be mentioned that these findings are more noticeable in those who are in their mid life or older. For individuals who are considered young and healthy, the high demand in cognitive testing is necessary to ascertain specific behavioral changes. For those who are older and who consume these cocoa flavanols on a consistent basis, their overall cognitive framework and cognitive abilities take a notable and impressive uptick. Things like verbal fluency, attention to detail, processing speed and working memory are tremendously improved.

The Factors

The reason that these factors are likely more noticeable in older individuals is because of the normal memory decline that tends to happen at a certain age. This is also true of individuals that have suffered from some type of cognitive impairment that occurred as a result of a minor injury that may have resulted in a concussion.

Michele Ferrara and Valentina Socci from the University of L’Aquila in Italy explain: “This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.”

It can be difficult for some to make dark chocolate or cocoa a consistent part of their dietary patterns because of other aspects of the food that is linked to caloric value, caffeine content, milk content and sugar amounts. So with these specific factors in mind, sometimes consistent consumption of chocolate is a bit harder to navigate. But the darker the chocolate the better it is for you and potential brain power.

Debunking Medical Mysteries


Staying out in the cold will give you a cold
Colds are caused by viruses, either from inhaling infected air droplets sneezed or coughed by someone infected, or by touching something that an infected person has touched and transferring it to your mouth or nose. You don’t get colds from cold air or wind, but the viruses that cause them are more active in the winter- which is why more people get them in the colder months.


Chocolate causes acne
Acne is formed when oil glands in the skin make too much of a waxy substance called sebum that can clog pores along with dead skin cells. This allows bacteria to grow and irritate the blocked pores and lead to the red, swollen appearance. Over washing can cause further inflammation too, so a good balance is key. Studies have disproved the chocolate link, though stress has been shown to cause outbreaks.


Knuckle cracking leads to arthritis
The popping sound when someone cracks their knuckles is caused by bubbles bursting in the fluid that lubricates joints. When the bones are pulled apart, the capsule containing this fluid is stretched and can “pop”. A study of 74 people who habitually cracked their knuckles and 226 people who didn’t found no difference in rates of arthritis.


Sugar makes children hyperactive
Obesity and cavities are much bigger concerns for children having too much sugar than hyperactivity. At least 12 double blind studies have been conducted that observed how children react with diets containing different levels of sugar. None of them could tell the differences between the children who had and had not consumed the most sugar.


What Your Food Cravings Really Mean

If you’re craving a steak or a burger:
Cravings for red meat can signal a lack of iron, or conjugated linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid that helps your body burn stored fat. A healthier option to replace iron is dark, leafy greens like spinach. This is especially beneficial if your diet is high in fat or carbohydrates. Try incorporating smaller amounts of red meat into your diet so that you don’t go overboard when you do indulge.

If you’re craving baked goods:
This usually indicates that your blood glucose levels are fluctuating. The stress hormone cortisol triggers the release of glucose, and thereby insulin to regulate it. The sugars and carbohydrates in baked goods raise levels of blood sugar and serotonin, which is a brain chemical that invokes feelings of happiness. Instead, try a piece of fruit or a glass of 100% fruit juice. Not only will the natural sugars help level you out, but they also provide nutrients like vitamin C that you can’t get from a brownie.

If you’re craving chocolate:
Chocolate contains an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is essential in the body’s production of brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals enhance mood, and reduce pain. A better choice is dark chocolate as it has less sugar and more cacao. Another option is to mix unsweetened cocoa powder with skim milk and add a natural sugar substitute like Stevia.

If you’re craving French fries:
This usually means you’re lacking sodium, or experiencing a blood sugar imbalance caused by cortisol. The simple carbs in potatoes break down to glucose, and the salt will satisfy your need for sodium. The healthy alternative is salted nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts. These are full of sodium as well as healthy omega 3 fatty acids. The protein found in nuts will help keep your energy up as well.

Natural Health Tips for 7/30/09

Home Hiccup Cure
Here’s a tip from one of our customers: Nancy says “take a teaspoon of honey, agave nectar, or sugar and hold it in the mouth for less than a minute. The hiccup just disappears. Don’t know why, it just does.” Thanks for the tip Nancy, more people suffer from hiccups than most people realize.

Trouble Sleeping
Your body needs the essential amino acid tryptophan in order to make serotonin and melatonin which help control your mood and sleep patterns. If you don’t have enough tryptophan, you won’t be able to make enough serotonin or melatonin, and you may start to feel depressed or have trouble sleeping. The easiest way to get tryptophan is by eating it. It’s contained in many dairy products, fruits, and lean meats. Ever wonder why Thanksgiving dinner is so nap inducing? Turkey is very high in tryptophan.

Chocolate is Good for Your Heart
It sounds too good to be true, but evidence in recent years has been mounting steadily. Dark chocolate especially is an excellent source of antioxidants. A 2006 study among Dutch men showed that the ones who ate more foods made from or containing cocoa had lower blood pressure and their risk of death was 50% lower than those who ate little or no chocolate.

I “Swear” This Works
Ever wonder why people are more likely to utter expletives when in pain? Recent research from Keele University in England suggests that swearing originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, and is more aligned with emotion than language. It triggers adrenaline, and increases aggression, which in turn downplays pain and weakness. So, depending on the company you keep don’t be afraid to let it out the next time you stub your toe.