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Chocolate and Your Brain

Historically, chocolates used to be a treat for the noble classes and were considered aphrodisiacs because they were rare and tasted so good. Currently, Italian researchers claim that chocolate possesses a “love chemical,” phenylethylamine, which boosts energy and mood. Chocolate also has been shown to improve circulation by relaxing arterial walls. However, the latest research claims might be the most exciting of all: Chocolate presents neuroprotective benefit for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Epidemiological studies give proof to the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Many diseases are being prevented, postponed or controlled by diet, what the scientific community refers to as functional food. To think that chocolate could prevent or postpone a dreaded disease like Alzheimer’s is mind boggling. And quite frankly, it is not about the anti-oxidants found in chocolate, but rather on the molecular level regarding the role of polyphenol compounds.

Now, a new study from the Sbarro Health Research Organization in Temple University, Philadelphia and the University of L’Aquila in Italy, shows that cocoa polyphenols trigger neuroprotection by activating a BDNF survival pathway which counteracts neurite dystrophy. In other words, BDNF has been likened to “miracle grow” for new brain cells responsible for creating neuroplasticity in older adults – you can still manufacture new brain cells. The findings as published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry may have important implications for the prevention of cognitive impairment in the elderly as well as counteracting a neurodegenerative disease’s progression. “Our studies indicate for the first time the cocoa polyphenols do not act only as mere anti-oxidant but they, directly or indirectly, activate the BDNF survival pathway counteracting neuronal death,” says Annamaria Cimini of the University of L’Aquila, lead author of the study.

There is great potential in the curative ability of functional food. For example, a spice like turmeric and a drink like green tea have been shown to be helpful in reducing inflammation, the kind of inflammation which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s. Blueberries and coffee boost memory.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I am an avid chocolate lover and so, I am slightly biased and frankly, excited about this new research. In fact, I just ate some dark chocolate. Not only has my mood improved on this dreary rainy day, but I feel more alert. Having had two parents with Alzheimer’s disease, I am going to eat some more delicious, dark chocolate before researchers change their minds.

For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show



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