Dark chocolate and its ability to protect the brain and the neuroplasticity
A healthy lifestyle contributes to the maintenance of cognitive functions in both the young people and the elderly. In fact, over the years, memory, attention, concentration and processing speed tend to deteriorate. However, some aspects of lifestyle, such as diet, can slow down if not even prevent this process thanks to different mechanisms activated by certain substances contained in food. Flavonoids are one of these substances and are shown to protect brain health thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, capable of promoting brain plasticity and blood flow. Chocolate, especially if dark, is one of the foods with the highest content in flavonoids and a very recent scientific research, which we are talking about today, has investigated its beneficial effects on brain health (Martin et al, Nutrients, Nov 2020).
Consuming an average quantity of 30 grams of dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of at least 70%, has led to an improvement in cognitive functions in both young and old people. However, the researchers observed that the effect was much more effective in young adults and that the benefits could be observed both in the short term, already after 4 hours of chocolate ingestion, and in the long term with a daily consumption of chocolate. The flavonoids in chocolate act on the brain in several ways, as the study authors point out. First, flavonoids are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and therefore counteract inflammation and free radical damage to allow the brain to work at its best. Then, the flavonoids promote the production of nitric oxide, which is a substance that protects the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels, promoting vasodilation and improving blood flow to the brain. Not only that, flavonoids increase the presence of the BDNF factor, or brain neurotrophic factor, which is linked to an increase in brain plasticity, and therefore the brain's ability to adapt to situations, and to neuronal survival. This latter effect was observed after a couple of months of consuming dark chocolate. Finally, the consumption of dark chocolate has not only benefited the brain, but also the heart, since flavonoids improve circulation, and vision. In fact, a greater flow of blood can reach the retina that, being very sensitive to this increase in blood flow, responds better to stimuli.