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Two Cups of Hot Chocolate a Day Keeps the Neurologist Away

Tim Boyer's picture

Are people who drink hot chocolate regularly, smarter than their non-cocoa bean drinking peers? It's a possibility according to a recent news announcement that, “There may be a sweet way to keep the brain healthy,” as stated by a CBS Health News report this morning about a new paper published in the online issue of the medical journal Neurology that reveals the finding that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may be an easy and effective way to keep an aging mind sharp.

This finding is the result of scientists at Harvard Medical School giving 60 elderly study participants two cups of hot chocolate a day for one month and discovering that the hot chocolate treatment significantly improved cerebral blood flow in the brains of participants who had some previously detected impairment of brain blood flow.

The study consisted of 60 senior citizens with an average age of 73 and no medical history of dementia or impairment of cognitive abilities. Before and after the 30-day hot chocolate treatment, the study participants were given a battery of tests that evaluated their thinking and memory skills for comparison. Ultrasound was used to measure cerebral blood flow during the tests.

According to a news release by the American Academy of Neurology scientists explain why blood flow is so important for proper brain functioning:

"We're learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills," said study author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."

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What the researchers found was that a subset of 18 out of the 60 study participants had relatively poor cerebral blood flow and were the ones who benefited the most from drinking hot chocolate. The 18 participants demonstrated an 8.3 percent improvement in blood flow to the areas of the brain that were active during the cognitive testing. Furthermore, with the increased blood flow was a significant improvement in memory test scores: the subset of 18 participants finished their tests nearly 1 minute sooner after having the hot chocolate regimen in comparison to their earlier scores before the hot chocolate regimen. In comparison, the remaining 42 participants with normal cerebral blood flow showed no measurable improvement in mental performance.

One interesting side note was that the participants were also tested to see if the flavanol content in cocoa makes a difference. Flavonol is an antioxidant that is particularly high in the cocoa bean and thought to have curative properties for both mood and dementia.

The study participants were divided into two groups that were given hot chocolate that was either rich or poor in flavanol content. The data showed no difference between the two groups leaving the exact reason what components of cocoa may be responsible for improving cerebral blood flow undetermined.

In an editorial that accompanied the article, Paul B. Rosenberg, MD, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore stated that, "More work is needed to prove a link between cocoa, blood flow problems and cognitive decline. But this is an important first step that could guide future studies."

A related idea of creating a “healthy chocolate” has been in the news of late with researchers reporting that fruit-infused chocolate is healthier, tastes great and contains up to 50% less fat than conventional chocolate snacks.

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Reference: CBS News Health “Two cups of hot cocoa a day sharpen seniors' brains, study suggests”