Everybody remembers times from their youth when their mothers, grandmothers or other relatives brought them in from the cold and settled them in with a steaming mug of hot cocoa. Classic family folk wisdom has typically held that there's a special healing power in a hot mug of cocoa. Surprisingly, recent medical research has indicated that there may be more to that than originally thought. Chocolate is a favorite of taste buds everywhere, but it seems that it might also provide some previously unforeseen health benefits. So go ahead and indulge in that mug of cocoa - it may very well be good for you.
The connection between cocoa and memory
A recent study from the Columbia University Medical Center investigated the effect of cocoa on memory loss and preservation in seniors. Specifically, the researchers were focusing on the potential that dietary flavanols may have in preserving memory, or slowing the cognitive decline that happens naturally as a part of the aging process.
The researchers noted that memory loss and a drop in cognitive function typically occur in mid-adulthood, but the effects are not usually seen until the senior years. This is believed to be due to a change in a specific part of the brain, known as the dentate gyrus, the study revealed. The CUMC study was designed to determine both if cocoa flavanols were able to improve memory and prevent deterioration of the dentate gyrus, as well as further solidify that area of the brain's role in memory decline in aging. Important to note is that the type of memory loss studied by researchers in this endeavor is not related to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, which comes about as a result of the breakdown of brain cells.
Participants who were given a high-flavanol diet in the form of a special drink not only demonstrated an increased performance in the dentate gyrus when administered brain scans, but they also performed better on tests designed to assess levels of memory and cognition.
"If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old," Dr. Scott A. Small said.
The findings are encouraging, though the research team admits that a larger-scale study needs to be conducted before any solid conclusions can be drawn.
Good for the body as well as the mind
If the study's findings pan out, they could reveal that cocoa provides significant benefits in terms of preventing age-related memory loss in seniors. But there may be even more health-related applications of the delicious natural extract. Medical News Today reported that cocoa is possibly instrumental in preventing stroke, as a separate study found that chocolate-eaters were 22 percent less likely to suffer from stroke than those who didn't regularly eat chocolate. Additionally, Natural News highlighted that cocoa contains enzymes that can act as natural antidepressants, helping to stave off the onset of depression and anxiety in those who incorporate it into their diets. The high levels of both antioxidants and polyphenols in cocoa make it a good food for promoting heart health. While moderation is still recommended due to the high sugar content of chocolate and other cocoa-derived foods, incorporating it into a diet may be an easy and effective supplement to your standard senior care regimen.