Chocolate can improve brain functioning and mood, according to scientific review assessing over 100 previous studies linking chocolate to health benefits.
In research available online ahead of publication in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, author Astrid Nehlig suggested there was sufficient evidence to believe that cocoa flavanols contained substances that can boost cognitive functioning.
The review gives further credence to cocoa and chocolate being considered as nutraceuticals providing health benefits.
It was available online shortly before the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave a positive opinion on a health claim from chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut linking cocoa to improved blood flow. (See HERE )
Assessing many studies Callebaut used to win the EFSA nod, Nehlig concluded: “Cocoa powder and chocolate contain a large percentage of flavonoids that display several beneficial actions on the brain.
She said that cocoa flavanols could inhibit brain cells from dying by delivering blood to capillaries, which could create new blood vessels.
Epicatechin, the main flavonoid in cocoa was considered the likeliest source of such effects.
Epicatechin content has been shown to be higher in darker chccolate and levels are said to be negatively affected by variables in the chcoclate making process, such as roasting temperatures.
Chocolate equals happy
“Chocolate induces also positive effects on mood and is often consumed under emotional stress,” added Nehlig.
She said that chocolate could stimulate the release of endorphins, which enhance the pleasure of eating.
To reach these conclusions she considered a study that used 'forced swimming tests' on cocoa eating rats and another that found chocolate intake was increased when sad music was played.
Regular consumption and limitations
Fat makes up around 50% of a cocoa bean and additional sugar is often added in chocolate formulation, which has led many to view chocolate as unhealthy.
However, Nehlig said: “On the basis of the present knowledge, it appears that the benefits from moderate cocoa or chocolate consumption likely outweigh the possible risks.”
Yet it is still unclear at what age people need to start regular chocolate consumption to gets the beneficial effects, which Nehlig said could prevent neurodegenerative diseases and age-dependant cognitive decline.
See past articles on the health benefits of chocolate in our 'Functional Chocolate' radar category, which can be found HERE .
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (online ahead of publication)
‘The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance’
Author: Astrid Nehlig