Eating dark chocolate has neurological benefits

By ELAINE CHIAO | May 3, 2018

 

Researchers at Loma Linda University have recently announced good news for people with a sweet tooth. After many experimental trials, they discovered that the consumption of certain types of dark chocolate noticeably improves people’s cognitive abilities.

Lee S. Berk is the principal investigator of a study that investigates the relationship between cacao consumption and neurological functions. Berk is a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science from Loma Linda University, as well as the associate dean of research affairs at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Allied Health Professions.

Cacao is a bean-like seed originating from West Africa, and is one of the major components of dark chocolate. Most importantly, it is a type of flavonoid, or compound, that has been proven to have positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and even immunity.

“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time and are encouraged by the findings,” Berk said in a press release.

Berk’s studies revealed that the rate of cacao consumption is directly proportional to a person’s positive moods and cognitive acuity levels. From a more biological standpoint, cacao enhances the brain’s functions through regulation of immune responses and sensory perceptions in cells.

For example, Beck’s team discovered that cacao regulates the activities of various signaling pathways in the human body, most of which are involved in immune responses. One of these is the T cell pathway, which is a type of signaling pathway involving T cell lymphocytes that hunt down or destroy germs and cancerous cells alike.

Dark chocolate is relatively low in sugar content and contains an abundance of antioxidants. 

For many years, people have known that sugar intake can be linked to increased happiness. However, Berk’s research specifically focuses on dark chocolate’s effects on the human body from the standpoint of cacao consumption levels. 

Berk’s team recently presented their research at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego, and it has received widespread attention. 

In the future, the researchers hope to unravel the intricate mechanisms behind cacao-mediated brain responses. They also hope to pinpoint cacao’s impact on immune cell activities.

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