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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Cocoa Compound Boosts Brain's Blood Flow

Flavanols in Cocoa May Help Treat Stroke, Dementia
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 21, 2008 -- It's news we all want to hear -- that eating chocolate is good for you. Well not quite, but an ingredient in some chocolates is showing promise in promoting blood flow to the brain.

The ingredient is flavanols, which are nutrients found in cocoa. Flavanols are considered to act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories on cells. These chemicals can protect cells and tissue from damage, which in turn protects against heart disease and cancer.

The research and similar studies were funded by Mars Inc., the maker of Snickers and other foods.

"The totality of the research on cocoa flavanols is impressive. This is just one more study adding to an increasing body of literature connecting regular cocoa flavanol consumption to blood flow and vascular health improvements throughout the body," according to news release comments from Harold Schmitz, chief science officer at Mars.

Schmitz says that flavanol-rich drinks or foods could be created to help slow brain decline as people age.

This study rounded up 34 healthy 59- to 83-year-olds. The average age was 72. None of the participants was a smoker or had diabetes or high blood pressure.

The participants were asked not to take in any caffeine, alcohol, or chocolate for at least 12 hours before being tested.

The participants were told to drink a special cocoa drink twice a day. Some drank a high-flavanol drink (450 milligrams). The other group got a low-flavanol drink (18 milligrams).

Study members drank their cocoa and then came to a hospital where researchers used ultrasound to see how well blood was flowing in the brain, specifically in the middle cerebral artery.

Flavanol and Blood Flow

After one week, blood flow measures increased 8% in the group that got the flavanol-rich drinks. After two weeks that went up to a 10% increase.

When comparing participants drinking the high-flavanol cocoa to those who drank the low-flavanol cocoa, there was an increase in measured blood flow.

The researchers write that flavanols could have a "promising role" to treat brain conditions such as stroke and dementia.

The findings are published in the journal Neuropychiatric Disease and Treatment.

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