New research shows that dark chocolate not only lowers blood pressure but also improves attention especially when hitting that midday slump. Realizing that chocolate contains some powerful stimulants, a study was conducted at North Arizona University to see if people who consume chocolate would see an immediate stimulant effect.
The study published in the journal NeuroRegulation is the first to examine the acute effects of chocolate on attentional characteristics of the brain. It is also the first study of chocolate consumption performed using EEG technology, which takes images of the brain while performing a cognitive task and measuring the brain activity.
For the study which involved 122 people between aged 18 to 25 - the researchers examined the EEG levels and blood pressure effects of consuming a 60 percent cacao confection compared with five control conditions. The testing phase also included measuring serving sizes of the samples based on participant weight and packaging them so the participants were blind to what they were tasting.
The results for the participants who consumed the 60 percent cacao chocolate showed that the brain was more alert and attentive after consumption. Their blood pressure also increased for a short time.
The most interesting results came from one of the control conditions, a 60 percent cacao chocolate which included L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that acts as a relaxant. For participants who consumed the high-cacao content chocolate with L-theanine, researchers recorded an immediate drop in blood pressure.
Chocolate is indeed a stimulant and it activates the brain in a really special way, said Larry Stevens, a professor of psychological sciences at North Arizona University. It can increase brain characteristics of attention, and it also significantly affects blood pressure levels. A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and cant pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention.
Stevens said that a regular chocolate bar with high sugar and milk content wouldnt be as good because its the high-cacao content chocolate that can be found from most manufacturers that will have these effects.
L-theanine is a really fascinating product that lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful, Stevens cond. We thought that if chocolate acutely elevates blood pressure, and L-theanine lowers blood pressure, then maybe the L-theanine would counteract the short-term hypertensive effects of chocolate. Its remarkable. The potential here is for a heart healthy chocolate confection that contains a high level of cacao with L-theanine that is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you pay attention.
Stevens hopes the results of this study will encourage manufacturers to investigate further and consider the health benefits of developing a chocolate bar made with high-cacao content and L-theanine. People dont generally eat chocolate and think its going to be healthy for them, Stevens said. There is a possibility the millions of hypertension patients in the country could eat a bar of this heart healthy chocolate every afternoon and their blood pressure would drop into the normal range, and they would be more alert and attentive.