Research suggests that CHOCOLATE (yes, it deserves to be capitalized) meets a variety of needs. I know, I know, there’s that whole thing about chocolate and the libido, but this is a serious book! I’m writing about the chocolate and your heart. Chocolate seems to straddle the line between a food and a beneficial medicine. Even the conventional wisdom that chocolate is related to acne has been challenged. Its chemical properties are complicated, as is the choice on which kind of chocolate to eat or where to purchase it.
Chocolate contains more than 300 substances, including caffeine in small quantities, and theobromine, a weaker stimulant. Some contend that these two chemicals form the basis of the much-touted chocolate high, postulating that they increase activity of key neurotransmitters. The stimulant phenylethylamine, which is related chemically to amphetamines, is also in chocolate. Make no mistake, with this research I have chomped into I find myself a little kinder while enjoying this derivative from our ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations.
A flavonoid found in cocoa beans could mean the difference between remembering and forgetting, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Scientists from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary linked the flavonoid (-)-epicatechin (or epi for short) to the formation of long-term memory.
Epi: an edible, natural chemical
Found in cocoa beans, green tea, blueberries, and red wine, epi is a plant-based phytochemical associated with memory and neural performance. Research from a variety of labs has found that epi may play a role in the regeneration of neurons, help protect against certain types of neuronal death, and, according to this 2012 study, significantly improve long-term memory.
Measuring memory in snails, and not by dipping them in chocolate and eating them.
Hotchkiss researchers first observed how many times the snails opened their breathing holes in a standard environment—this formed the baseline. They then spent 30 minutes training the snails in a simple task: whenever a snail opened its breathing hole, a researcher gently poked that hole with a stick.
There was one secret ingredient to success, however: half of the snails were submerged in regular pond water during the training period, and half the snails were submerged in water mixed with epi flavonoids. Because snails breathe directly through their skin, the group of epi-exposed snails quickly absorbed the flavonoid directly into their central nervous systems. This gave scientists a simple, reliable way to measure the chemical’s affects.
You would think if this is a study about chocolate the snails would have been dipped in chocolate and eaten by people in a study.
And the flavonoid had pronounced effects. Though the pond water and the epi groups behaved similarly 24 hours after training, they displayed crucial differences in memory after 72 hours.
72 hours after flavonoid exposure, the epi-exposed snails still opened their breathing holes at significantly less than their baseline rate—indicating that they remembered events that had happened 3 day prior, and that they learned to avoid pokes based on those memories. The control group demonstrated no such memory after 72 hours. Because both groups of snails underwent the same half-hour training, scientists postulated that the epi played a key role in forming and enhancing that long-term memory.
Epi and your long-term memory
Though still preliminary, this Hotchkiss Brain Institute paper shows promise for the future study of epi flavonoids. It moves us another step forward in identifying lifestyle habits that can positively affect cognition.
Chocolate and other epi-rich foods may give your memory a boost, but remember to supplement a brain-healthy diet with other healthy habits!
Suggestions are Luminosity, Words with Friends, Candy Crush, whatever you choose; keep that mind of yours busy with productive interaction. And there is always reading. Readers expand their vocabulary, build imagination and critical thinking, and often open their minds to new thoughts and experiences.
Chocolate suggestions are too many to write. You will have to do the research yourself.