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Chocolate

Cocoa: the Ultimate Health Tonic?

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Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge The flavanols in cocoa may sharpen the mind and lower blood pressure - FLICKR/VEGAN FEAST CATERING
Chocolate has been called everything from an aphrodisiac to an addiction, but could it actually be medicinal? Two new cocoa studies say yes.

The first study, published in the journal Hypertension on August 14, looked at how flavanol-packed cocoa affected elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment. Flavanol is an antioxidant found in chocolate. Subjects who drank either a high (990 milligrams) or intermediate (520 milligrams) dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink daily for eight weeks showed a noticeable improvement in certain mental tasks. They were faster to complete mental tests, had higher verbal fluency, were better able to relate visual stimuli to motor responses, and showed improved working memory and task-switching. As a bonus, they also experienced a drop in insulin resistance, blood pressure and oxidative stress (basically, damaging free radicals run amok).

Even though earlier research has also indicated that cocoa flavanols could benefit the brain, it was unable to demonstrate a consistent cognitive benefit. The new study by researchers from the University of L'Aquila in Italy does.

Study author Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, director of the Geriatric Division of the University of L'Aquila, said, "For the first time, regular cocoa flavanol consumption has been shown to positively affect cognitive function in older adults with early memory decline ...The findings provide promising indications that the development of novel dietary approaches for improving health as we age -- especially cognitive health -- is a real possibility."

The second analysis, published in the Cochrane Library, examined the effects of cocoa on blood pressure. Researchers examined studies of chocolate consumption (and again flavanols), and found a small but "statistically significant" record of decreased blood pressure in study participants who consumed products containing cocoa powder daily for at least two weeks.

We are eagerly awaiting the day when our doctor writes us a prescription for Valhrona cocoa 2X a day. Hopefully scientists will also soon discover that marshmallows prevent balding and wrinkles.


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