Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cocoa's `mind altering' experience


Cocoa's `mind altering' experience
By : Rajen M.

According to scientists the naturally occurring compounds in cocoa known as flavanols helps to keep the brain healthy and prevents decline and dementia.

THERE is a new Harvard Medical School study that suggests that cocoa is good for your brain function. It may help make you more alert, feel good and improve memory.

You might ask:

Can cocoa extracts make you more alert?

Can cocoa make you smarter?

Can it make you learn faster?

Can it boost your memory?

Can it boost your brain?

Yes, cocoa can do all these, you better believe it.

It seems that cocoa flavanols -- the unique compounds found naturally in cocoa -- can actually increase blood flow to the brain.

This information comes from new research published in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal earlier this year.

The researchers suggest that long-term improvements in brain blood flow could impact higher brain function like learning and memory. It may even one day help patients with memory loss.

In a scientific study of healthy, older adults aged 59 to 83, Harvard medical scientists found that study participants who regularly drank a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage had an eight per cent increase in brain blood flow after one week, and 10 per cent increase after two weeks.

In this first-of-its-kind study, the researchers found both short and long-term benefits of cocoa flavanols for brain blood flow.

When the flow of blood to the brain slows over time, the result may be structural damage and dementia. Scientists speculate that maintaining an increased blood flow to the brain could slow mental decline.

A number of scientific studies suggest that some types of cocoa contain substances that could enhance blood flow in the brain and improve brain function.

An international panel of scientists presented their findings earlier this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). There was also a presentation earlier this year titled "The Neurobiology of Chocolate: A Mind-Altering Experience?"

The scientists suggested that a special cocoa could be made to retain the naturally occurring compounds known as flavanols to help keep the brain healthy and to prevent decline and dementia.

The scientists reported several studies where the flow of blood to the brain was observed in different groups of people after consuming a specially prepared cocoa rich in flavanol.

Dr Ian Macdonald of Britain's Nottingham Medical School looked at changes in regional brain blood flow in participants who drank the flavanol-rich cocoa.

He suggested that cocoa flavanols could be used to treat vascular impairments in the brain.

He said the study showed "that acute consumption of this particular flavanol-rich cocoa beverage was associated with increased blood flow to grey matter for two to three hours".

Dr Macdonald added that the food components like cocoa flavanols could be used to increase blood flow in the brain and enhance "brain function among older adults or for others in situations where they may be cognitively impaired, such as fatigue or sleep deprivation".

The panel of scientists suggested that these various independent observations of the effect on the blood vessels after drinking flavanol rich foods could be because of the increase in circulating nitric oxide, which helps the circulation by dilating blood vessels and keeping them pliable.

Dr Hollenberg also got healthy volunteers who were over 50 to drink flavanol-rich cocoa. He noticed a "striking blood flow response" emerging over several weeks.

"Since this cocoa preparation is so well tolerated, it raises hope that the brain blood flow response it stimulates can result in maintenance of healthy brain function and cognition, which is an issue that unfortunately plagues many older adults today," said Dr Hollenberg.

Another scientist, Dr Henriette van Praag of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies reported on a study of the effect of a particular flavanol, Epichatechin, in mice.

She said the compound influenced the hippocampus, a gland in the brain that affects memory.

When the flavanol was added to their food, she said the mice demonstrated improved skill in solving and remembering a maze compared to those mice which did not consume the compound.

Cocoa is rich in a methylxanthine constituent called theobromine which is a breakdown compound of caffeine.

Of all foods containing theobromine, cocoa has the highest concentration with dark chocolate containing 237 -- 519mg theobromine per 50g portion.

There is another striking innovation from Belgium -- the home of world class chocolate. Belgian scientists have discovered that adding cocoa extracts to super critical extracts of green tea result in:

- Increased simple reaction time (the participants were more alert)

- Increased rapid visual information processing

- Better energy

- Improved mood

All the improvements were statistically significant. The study was published in the Pyschopharmacology -- a leading peer reviewed medical journal -- in 2004 with a worldwide patent pending.

Most commercially available cocoa is low in flavanol because it imparts a bitter taste. To make matters worse, whether you take cocoa as a chocolate or as a cocoa drink, sugar and milk are added to minimise the bitter taste of cocoa.

This unique cocoa and green tea extract combination come combined in a tablet. This new preparation has recently become available in Malaysia and is sold in all pharmacies.

It certainly is a welcomed innovation in the market for "mental enhancers" that are free of side effects and addiction.

The market is currently dominated by gingko and caffeine products. We all know about coffee and would rather not take too much of it.

As for gingko, there is a new randomised controlled trial reported in the Journal of American Medical Association (Volume 300, No 19, Nov 19, 2008) that Gingko bilboa taken a dose of 120mg thrice daily was not effective in reducing dementia or Alzheimer's Disease in elderly patients who were normal or who have mild mental impairment.

Thus, a formulation that maximises the effects of cocoa with another safe and well used compound like green tea extract may be an advancement that is safe and effective towards "brain enhancement".

If you want to get a free copy of these studies, just send me an email to the address below.

Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in holistic medicine.

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