Eating dark chocolate with a high concentration of cacao could have a positive effect on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity, according to two new preliminary studies recently presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego.
Cacao is a major source of flavonoids, extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents known to be beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health. The new research is the first to study the effects of cacao in humans to determine how it can support cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health.
“For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content — the more sugar, the happier we are,” said Lee S. Berk, Dr.P.H., a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science from Loma Linda University.
“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. 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.”
For the first pilot study, the researchers looked at the effects of 70 percent cacao chocolate consumption on human immune and dendritic cell gene expression, with a focus on pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Blood test findings reveal that the dark chocolate consumption impacted gene activity, increased anti-inflammatory agents and increased infection-fighting cells.
The second study assessed participants through electroencephalography (EEG) after they had consumed 48 grams of dark chocolate (70 perceng cacao). They received scans 30 minutes after eating the chocolate and again after 120 minutes.
The research team observed the effects on brain frequencies 0-40Hz, specifically beneficial gamma frequency (25-40Hz). Their findings show that this superfood of 70 percent cacao enhances neuroplasticity for behavioral and brain health benefits.
Berk says that more research is needed, specifically to determine the significance of these effects for immune cells and the brain in larger study populations. Further research is in progress to investigate the mechanisms that may be involved in the cause-and-effect brain-behavior relationship with cacao at this high concentration.