Regular cocoa flavanol intake could help maintain brain health – study

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Cocoa polyphenols activate the BNDF survival pathway, which could help guard against Alzheimer’s, say researchers
Cocoa polyphenols activate the BNDF survival pathway, which could help guard against Alzheimer’s, say researchers

Related tags Antioxidant Flavonoid Chocolate

New research claims regularly eating cocoa flavanols could protect people from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The study by Cimini et al. ​published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry​ found that cocoa polyphenols trigger neuroprotective activity.

Cocoa seems to affect, directly or indirectly, signal transduction pathways involved in neuronal death and neuroprotection, supporting the possibility of its potential use as preventive agent for neurodegenerative diseases characterized by oxidative stress,”​ said the researchers.

“Although additional confirmatory studies are warranted, these findings suggest that the regular dietary inclusion of flavanols could be one element of a dietary approach for the maintaining and improving brain health, as previously suggested,”​ they continued.

Method: In Vitro

The researchers extracted phenols from commercial cocoa powder and examined their effect on cell cultures.

Past research has focused mainly on the antioxidant properties and less on the mechanism of action at cellular level.

The in vitro​ study enabled the team to confirm the antioxidant properties of cocoa, but more compellingly demonstrated that cocoa polyphenols activate the BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) survival pathway, which could help guard against Alzheimer’s.

'Good preventive agent'

Study author Annamaria Cimini told "I think that cocoa may constitute a good preventive agent, better than other sources of flavonoids, such as green tea; in the sense that it may be beneficial in all the conditions characterized by high oxidative stress, i.e. aging, neurodegeneration, vascular dementia."

"I do not know if cocoa can be beneficial for people with disease but since it contains antioxidant and it is a pleasure to eat or drink chocolate it should be used."

She added that the levels of polyphenols can vary among different kinds of cocoa, but commercial powder highly enriched with polyphenols already exists.

Chocolate binging: Parkinson’s link

Last week, we reported on a review​ published in the Neuroscience Bulletin​ by Borah et al. ​that said chocolate over-consumption (a whole 100g tablet each day) could be a cause of Parkinson’s Disease due to a naturally occurring component found in cocoa beans called β-phenethylamine (β-PEA).

However, the Indian researchers also said that various antioxidants such as polyphenols could negate any harmful effect.

Previous research

A study​ last year, funded by Mars, found that elderly people with mild cognitive impairment could improve their motor responses and memory by consuming a 990mg of dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks.

Some of the researchers in that study also authored the latest research, although Mars played no part in the present study.

The latest study was conducted by the Sbarro Health Research Organization at Temple University in the US and the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University and the University of L’Aquila in Italy.

Journal of Cellular Biochemistry
DOI: 10.1002/jcb.24548
‘Cocoa powder triggers neuroprotective and preventive effects in a human Alzheimer's Disease model by modulating BDNF signaling pathway’
Authors: A. Cimini, R. Gentile, B. D'Angelo, E. Benedetti, L. Cristiano, ML Avantaggiati,  A. Giordano, C. Ferri,  GB Desideri

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