These extracts, which contain polyphenols, could help reduce age-related cognitive dysfunction and promote better aging of the brain, according to Dr. Giulio Maria Pasinetti, Saunders Family Chair and Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
‘Not all chocolate is created equal’
Pasinetti told ConfectioneryNews that there may eventually be a chocolate created to help treat not only cognitive disorders, but for mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
“Yes, there is a possibility; but not all the chocolate is created equal,” he said, noting that much of the chocolate produced today is devoid of the valuable polyphenols. “We are trying to develop now an experimental smart chocolate that we would like to try to deliver clinically and move on to see if we can try to see some kid of improvements [in these disorders].”
The issue right now, he said, is trying to preserve the polyphenols during cocoa processing.
“This is definitely not going to be a chocolate that is going to be considered something that is a sweet chocolate that you will like to enjoy,” Pasinetti said with a chuckle. “But the goal is indeed to move toward that kind of chocolate.”
A better understanding is needed
A recent paper Pasinetti co-authored in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease said there was strong scientific evidence supporting the neurological effects of cocoa extracts, “and in particular to prevent age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of age-related dementia affecting an estimated 44 million people worldwide.”
The study said cognitive disorders are so complex yet existing approaches to tackle Alzheimer's target only single elements.
The researchers said exploring the benefits of flavanols found in cocoa is worthwhile, as it may help find additional ways of preventing these disorders.
In addition to his work with cognitive disorders and chocolate, Pasinetti said he is working toward a collaborative effort with the US Department of Defense to develop a compound for brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“However, we note that key issues to improve consistency and reproducibility in the development of cocoa extracts as a potential future therapeutic agent requires a better understanding of the cocoa extract sources, their processing, and more standardized testing including brain bioavailability of bioactive metabolites and brain target engagement studies,” the study said.
Multidisciplinary effort, cooperation needed for a new breed
Pasinetti said collaborative efforts to help find the benefits of cocoa for cognitive disorders should be spread across cocoa producers, wholesalers and the biomedical community. Already, he said there are companies driving research, such as Nestlé, which is investigating cocoa's relationship to Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, he noted that Mars already has Cocoavia on the market, a pill rich in flavanol said to be cognitively beneficial.
By collaborating further, the communities can together ensure that the lack of consistency and reproduction of cocoa extract processing can be addressed in full, as there are concerns about the long-term supply and quality of cocoa.
There may need to be new breeds of cocoa grown that are specifically created to be fruitful and resistant to disease. Pasinetti’s report also found that two of the most common techniques for processing chocolate may destroy as much as 90% of the polyphenols in the cocoa.
New collaboration between disciplines could mean new breakthroughs in fighting Alzheimer’s, Pasinetti said. As the ability to strengthen cocoa development grows, he believes they will better be able to promote healthy aging of the brain and even fully prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s an opportunity that we can create a chocolate that can eventually be consumed just in the regular diet,” he said, adding that the great hope is that it can be used regularly to quell these cognitive and nervous system disorders.
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 48(4).
'Recommendations for Development of New Standardized Forms of Cocoa Breeds and Cocoa Extract Processing for the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease: Role of Cocoa in Promotion of Cognitive Resilience and Healthy Brain Aging'
L. Dubner, J. Wang, L. Ho, L. Ward, G. Pasinetti