LOMA LINDA, Calif. — If you love dark chocolate, you’ll be happy to know that it is much more than a sweet treat. Researchers say it may even qualify as a “superfood.” That’s because enjoying certain types of the classic treat can reduce stress and inflammation while boosting mood, memory and immunity, according to two new studies.
Researchers at Linda Loma University conducted studies on the benefits of consuming dark chocolate, particularly when it contains 70% cacao and 30% organic cane sugar). While cacao is a well-known source of flavonoids — powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents — this is the first study to look at how consuming dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cacao might directly improve 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,” says study author Lee S. Berk, a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science with the university, in a statement.
“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,” adds Berk. “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.”
In studying the impact of 70% cacao chocolate on the human immune system, the research team found that cacao improves pathways that activate T-cells, boosting the immune response at the cellular level and assisting in neural signals and sensory perception.
They monitored the electroencephalography (EEG) responses of participants who had eaten 48 grams (roughly 1 and 1/2 ounces) of dark chocolate. Brain frequencies were checked at 30- and 120-minute intervals, with the focus on beneficial gamma frequencies. The authors say their results qualify 70% cacao as a “superfood” because of its ability to boost neuroplasticity, providing both behavioral and brain health perks.
Researchers are now delving into the mechanisms behind this positive brain and behavior relationship with higher cacao levels. The next goal is a study of immune cell and brain impacts in a broader population.
The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting.