Who doesn’t love hot cocoa and hot chocolate? Yes, it’s delicious, but did you know that have many health benefits for your brain?
Researchers are reporting that seniors who drank two cups of hot cocoa a day for one month performed better on thinking and memory tests than those who didn’t. Brain imaging also showed cocoa-drinkers had better blood flow in the brain. The study’s authors say their research reflects a growing body of evidence that blood flow in the brain impacts thinking and memory.
“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow,” says Dr. Farzaneh Aghdassi Sorond, an associate neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
The research involved 60 people whose average age was 73. They were given tests of memory and thinking skills and the blood flow in their brains was measured. The participants were asked not to consume any other products containing chocolate during the study.
Half the participants drank hot cocoa high in antioxidant flavanol, while the other half drank flavanol-poor hot cocoa. At the start of the study, 18 of the 60 participants had impaired neurovascular coupling. By the end of the study, it had improved by 8.3%. These participants also improved their scores on a working memory speed test. At the start of the study, it took them 167 seconds to complete the test, while at the end they did it in 116 seconds.
Drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may boost memory in pensioners by almost a third. It is thought chocolate’s ability to boost blood circulation is the reason. The beneficial effects on the brain have been shown only for dark chocolate which is at least 60-70 percent cocoa. Milk or white chocolate does not provide the same benefits. Previous research has found that lovers of dark chocolate – with at least 60-70 per cent cocoa – benefit from a protective effect against high blood pressure and the risk of diabetes. And scientists say it can even benefit those who are already at high risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Dark chocolate also protects the brain against free radical damage. Your brain uses a lot of oxygen, about 20% of the body’s total intake. This makes it highly susceptible to free radical damage. Free radicals are unattached oxygen molecules that attack your cells much in the same way that oxygen attacks metal, causing it to rust. Cocoa powder has a higher level of antioxidants than other “superfoods” such as acai, blueberry, and pomegranate powders.