According to two new studies, dark chocolate with high cocoa content would be excellent for our health. Rich in flavonoids, it will stimulate our immune system and improve our memory and our learning abilities.
Already praised for its benefits on our cardiovascular system and our nervous system, dark chocolate would also be excellent for our immune system and our cognitive abilities. On one condition: the dark chocolate must be composed of at least 70% cocoa.
Presented at the annual Experimental Biology 2018 conference in San Diego, California on April 23-24, this new work was led by Dr. Lee S. Berk, Vice Dean of Research Affairs of the Paramedical School of Loma Linda. He was particularly interested in the benefits of dark chocolate on the brain and the immune system.
For the first study, the researchers asked five healthy subjects aged 22 to 40 to eat 48 g of dark chocolate (70% cocoa and 30% organic cane sugar), which is equivalent to a small bar of chocolate. Participants’ brain activity was measured by electroencephalography before they consumed chocolate, then about 30 minutes and 120 minutes later.
The researchers found that eating dark chocolate increased the gamma frequency in brain cortical regions, areas involved in memory and sensory processing. This indicates that 70% cocoa chocolate “improves neuroplasticity of the brain” and offers “behavioral and brain benefits”, which means that it boosts memory and learning abilities.
The second study involved five healthy adults aged 25 to 50, who were asked to eat 48 g of dark chocolate a day for 8 days.
Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the experiment, and other samples were taken every day 2 hours after the chocolate was consumed. These samples were then analyzed to determine how chocolate consumption affects the expression of genes associated with the activity of the immune system.
The researchers found that eating dark chocolate led to an increase in the expression of genes involved in the activation of T cells, which are white blood cells fighting infections and diseases. The researchers also found that dark chocolate intake increased gene expression associated with neuronal signaling and sensory perception.
The researchers explain the benefits of dark chocolate on our health by the presence of flavonoids in cocoa, powerful antioxidants that also play the role of anti-inflammatory agents. It is they, not cocoa sugar, that benefit our brains and our immune system.
“For years, we’ve been studying the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions in terms of sugar content — the more sugar we have, the happier we are,” says Dr. Berk. It’s the first time that we have examined the impact of large quantities of cocoa at doses as small as a full-size chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods, and we are encouraged by the results. The higher the concentration of cocoa, the higher its impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity, “he adds.
No need, therefore, to rush to the chocolate store and consume large quantities to benefit from its virtues. “Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems,” says Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky, professor at Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School in Boston. “But a moderate intake of high-cocoa chocolate can be a healthy choice.”