Chocolate Improves Memory and Heart Health

    23 December, 2014

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

    Can eating a chocolate bar every day really prevent age-related memory loss?


    Can eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner be good for your heart?

    Again, the answer is no.

    Chocolate Improves Memory and Heart Health
    Flavanol, a naturally occurring antioxidants found in cocoa, reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults in a recent study. (Photo courtesy of Mars, Inc., the chocolate company who helped to fund the study.)

    That would be too good to be true.

    But new research shows that large amounts of flavanols, substances found in cocoa, tea and some vegetables, may reverse age-related memory failure. Another study is looking to see if high levels of cocoa flavanols can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

    Flavanols found in dark chocolate are known to increase blood flow in the part of the brain that controls memory. They also help prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol.

    A new study published online in Nature Neuroscience found that cocoa flavanols reverse minor memory loss in older adults. A company that makes chocolate helped to pay for the study.

    Can chocolate improve memory?

    Brain processes decrease as we age. By the time we reach our 50s and 60s we may have trouble remembering simple things such as the names of new people we meet or where we put our car keys.

    Dr. Scott Small is a professor of neurology at Columbia University in New York City. He is the lead writer of a research paper describing the effects of cocoa flavanols on brain activity.

    The study involved 37 volunteers aged between 50 and 69. Researchers gave them a high-level flavanol drink made from cocoa beans or a low-level flavanol drink. For a period of three months, some subjects got 900 milligrams of flavanol a day. The others got 10 milligrams of flavanol each day.

    Dr. Scott Small, Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University

    Brain imaging and memory tests were given to each study subject before and after the study. Dr. Small says that the subjects who had the high-level flavanol drink showed much improvement on memory tests.

    Four-year study to dig deeper into healing powers of flavanol

    The researchers warn that more work is needed because this study was performed on a small group. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts recently announced plans to do just that.

    Dr. JoAnn Manson, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health

    Dr. JoAnn Manson is the lead researcher of a four-year study involving 18,000 adults. This study will use flavanol capsules.

    "This capsule of cocoa flavanols will avoid having the calories and the sugar and the saturated fat found in chocolate."

    The study subjects will be divided into two groups and will take two pills a day. The capsules will all look the same. But, one group's capsules will contain flavanols. The other group will take capsules made of an inactive substance, or placebo.

    Dr. Manson says that a person would have to eat ten times a normal amount to get the flavanols in just one flavanol pill.

    "The amount of chocolate that it would take in order to have this amount of cocoa flavanols would be more than ten times the amount that people would ordinarily eat."

    But Dr. Small says people should not necessarily start eating more chocolate. He says a person would have to eat a huge amount of chocolate to get the level of flavanol given to the test subjects. He also says many manufacturers remove the flavanols from their chocolate products.

    Dr. Small says a cocoa-based flavanol extract may be developed in the future. He says that more studies are needed to see how much flavanol is good for human health.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. It was based on reports from VOA correspondents George Putic and Matthew Hilburn. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    reverse – v. to cause (something, such as a process) to stop or return to an earlier state

    cholesterol – n. a substance that is found in the bodies of people and animals

    neurology – n. the scientific study of the nervous system especially in respect to its structure, functions, and abnormalities

    capsule n. a very small container that is filled with medicine and swallowed whole

    placebo – n. a pill or substance that is given to a patient like a drug but that has no physical effect on the patient

    extract n. a substance that you get from something by using a machine or chemicals