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Cocoa extract for the brain

Cocoa extract may counter specific mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease, says a new study, "Cocoa Extracts Reduce Oligomerization of Amyloid-β: Implications for Cognitive Improvement in Alzheimer’s Disease," published online June 20, 2014 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD). Insights into mechanisms behind cocoa’s benefit may lead to new treatments or dietary regimens. A specific preparation of cocoa-extract called Lavado may reduce damage to nerve pathways seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients’ brains long before they develop symptoms, according to that study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. You also may wish to check out the YouTube video, "The difference between "lavado" and "fermentado" cacao beans."

Cocoa extract for the brain.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Specifically, the study results, using mice genetically engineered to mimic Alzheimer’s disease, suggest that Lavado cocoa extract prevents the protein β-amyloid- (Aβ) from gradually forming sticky clumps in the brain, which are known to damage nerve cells as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. The goal is to use cocoa that is not processed with alkaline substances as Dutched cocoa usually is because the alkalizing process destroys the polyphenols in the cocoa, that is the dense nutrition and antioxidants.

Lavado cocoa is primarily composed of polyphenols, antioxidants also found in fruits and vegetables, with past studies suggesting that they prevent degenerative diseases of the brain

The Mount Sinai study results revolve around synapses, the gaps between nerve cells. Within healthy nerve pathways, each nerve cell sends an electric pulse down itself until it reaches a synapse where it triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters that float across the gap and cause the downstream nerve cell to “fire” and pass on the message.

The disease-causing formation of Aβ oligomers – groups of molecules loosely attracted to each other –build up around synapses. The theory is that these sticky clumps physically interfere with synaptic structures and disrupt mechanisms that maintain memory circuits’ fitness. In addition, Aβ triggers immune inflammatory responses, like an infection, bringing an on a rush of chemicals and cells meant to destroy invaders but that damage our own cells instead.

“Our data suggest that Lavado cocoa extract prevents the abnormal formation of Aβ into clumped oligomeric structures, to prevent synaptic insult and eventually cognitive decline,” says lead investigator Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, according to the June 23, 2014 news release, "Cocoa extract may counter specific mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease."

Pasinetti is the Saunders Family Chair and Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Given that cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease is thought to start decades before symptoms appear, we believe our results have broad implications for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Evidence in the current study is the first to suggest that adequate quantities of specific cocoa polyphenols in the diet over time may prevent the glomming together of Aβ into oligomers that damage the brain, as a means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team led by Dr. Pasinetti tested the effects of extracts from Dutched, Natural, and Lavado cocoa, which contain different levels of polyphenols. Each cocoa type was evaluated for its ability to reduce the formation of Aβ oligomers and to rescue synaptic function.

Lavado extract, which has the highest polyphenol content and anti-inflammatory activity among the three, was also the most effective in both reducing formation of Aβ oligomers and reversing damage to synapses in the study mice

“There have been some inconsistencies in medical literature regarding the potential benefit of cocoa polyphenols on cognitive function,” says Dr. Pasinetti, according to the news release. “Our finding of protection against synaptic deficits by Lavado cocoa extract, but not Dutched cocoa extract, strongly suggests that polyphenols are the active component that rescue synaptic transmission, since much of the polyphenol content is lost by the high alkalinity in the Dutching process.”

Because loss of synaptic function may have a greater role in memory loss than the loss of nerve cells, rescue of synaptic function may serve as a more reliable target for an effective Alzheimer’s disease drug, says Dr. Pasinetti.

The new study provides experimental evidence that Lavado cocoa extract may influence Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms by modifying the physical structure of Aβ oligomers. It also strongly supports further studies to identify the metabolites of Lavado cocoa extract that are active in the brain and identify potential drug targets. You also may wish to check out another article mentioning news of another study also involving Lavado cocoa extract, "Hershey: Cocoa polyphenols show weight management potential." The point is that cocoa extracts that underwent a minimum of processing were tested.

Notice how each time a new study finds a type of plant extract works, there's almost always the hope that a supplement can be made from it, or that the goal is to find a way to make money from the findings. For example, in addition, turning cocoa-based Lavado into a dietary supplement may provide a safe, inexpensive and easily accessible means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, even in its earliest, asymptomatic stages. But can a person buy a container of organic, raw cocoa powder that's minimally processed and not alkalized or 'Dutched, which destroys many of the polyphenols in the cocoa'?

Researchers from Kanazawa University in Japan contributed to the study and the cocoa used in the study was a gift from Dr. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Company. Authors of the study are Jun Wang*, Merina Varghese*, Kenjiro Ono, Masahito Yamada, Samara Levine, Nikos Tzavaras, Bing Gong, William J. Hurst, Robert D. Blitzer, Giulio Maria Pasinetti *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Also, you may wish to see another noteworthy study, "Compound Reverses Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease in Mice, SLU Research Shows." Or check out, "Natural Chemical Found In Grapes May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease by Decreasing Neurotoxins in the Brain."

You may also be interested in an older study which appeared in the news in August 2013. That study is published in the respected journal Neurology, explained that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help older people keep their brains healthy and their thinking skills sharp. A brisk walk also helps.

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