Want to give your mental and physical health a boost? Scientists propose a tasty strategy: eat a small amount of dark chocolate. New studies shed light on how dark chocolate might improve our brain health and strengthen our immune system.
Many studies that hail the health benefits of chocolate consumption — in moderation, of course. One such study associated chocolate with a lower risk of irregular heartbeat, while other research linked the tasty treat to a reduced likelihood of diabetes and heart disease.Generally, the darker the chocolate, the greater the health benefits; dark chocolate contains higher levels of flavonoids, which are a class of antioxidants that can protect our cells from damage and reduce inflammation.Two small studies — recently presented at Experimental Biology 2018, held in San Diego, CA, and due to be published in The FASEB Journal — provide further evidence of how dark chocolate can be good for us.
Both studies were led by Lee Berk, who is the associate dean of research affairs in the School of Allied Health Professions at Loma Linda in California. Berk and his colleagues investigated how eating a small amount of dark chocolate containing 70 percent cacao might have positive effects on the brain and immune system.
Dark chocolate ‘enhances neuroplasticity’
For the first study, the researchers enrolled five healthy subjects aged 22–40. Each participant ate 48 grams of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao and 30 percent organic cane sugar), which is the equivalent to one small chocolate bar. Before chocolate consumption and around 30 minutes and 120 minutes after, the subjects’ brain activity was measured using electroencephalography.
Findings are ‘encouraging’
The second study involved five healthy adults aged 25–50. They were asked to eat 48 grams of dark chocolate per day for a total of 8 days.
Blood samples were taken from the participants at study baseline. Follow-up blood samples were taken 2 hours after chocolate intake every day, as well as 7 days after baseline.
The blood samples were analyzed in order to determine how chocolate consumption affects the expression of genes associated with immune system activity.
It was found that eating dark chocolate led to an increase in the expression of genes involved in the activation of T cells, which are the white blood cells that help us to fight infection and disease.
The researchers also found that dark chocolate intake increased gene expression associated with neural signaling and sensory perception.
Berk and colleagues note that further research is needed to understand precisely what the findings of these two studies mean for brain and immune health, but they believe that the results are promising.
“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings,” says Berk.
“These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity, and other beneficial effects.”