(NaturalHealth365) Researchers have long known that cocoa and dark chocolate have substantial health benefits, due to their sky-high content of polyphenols. In the past, studies have focused mainly on the general health-promoting and protective aspects of cocoa’s various antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Now, a new animal study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease explores ways in which cocoa works at the molecular and cellular level to reduce damage to nerve pathways in Alzheimer’s disease. As nerve pathway damage can be seen long before patients even develop symptoms, there is hope that cocoa polyphenols may be able to help prevent the disease’s onset.
What is the main ‘trigger’ of Alzheimer’s disease?
In healthy nerve pathways, nerve cells send messages – in the form of electric pulses – to synapses, the gaps between nerve cells. This action triggers neurotransmitters to float across the gaps, causing nerve cells further down the pathway to “fire” and deliver the message.
Problems with the system can begin when amyloid A (beta) oligomers, groups of molecules that are attracted to each other, accumulate around the synapses, interfering with their action and disrupting memory circuits. The effects of this can be very significant; in fact, scientists believe that loss of proper synaptic functioning may damage memory more than the actual loss of nerve cells.
These toxic clumps of molecules also cause trouble in another way: their existence can trigger immune inflammatory responses, attracting cells and chemicals that are designed to repel invaders. But, with no real enemy to fight, normal cells are damaged instead.
Lavado cocoa successfully shown to prevent, even reverse nerve damage
To conduct the study, researchers used mice that had been genetically engineered to mimic Alzheimer’s disease, and administered extracts from Dutched, Natural and Lavado cocoa, all with differing levels of polyphenols. To measure the extracts’ effects on synaptic function, the team used photo-induced cross-linking techniques, as well as studying hippocampal slices.
Lavado cocoa has the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capability of the three, so researchers weren’t surprised when it yielded the best results in inhibiting A(beta) oligomers and countering synaptic damage. By contrast, Dutched cocoa, which is washed with potassium to neutralize acidity, loses polyphenols in the process.
The team noted that Lavado cocoa extracts present a promising route for both prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and expressed hope that dietary supplements made from Lavado cocoa could provide a safe, inexpensive and readily obtainable method of preventing Alzheimer’s disease early on. They also called for further studies to identify other metabolites of Lavado cocoa extract that may benefit the brain.
Earlier research reveals that cocoa can prevent brain damage
Other studies have supported the ability of the polyphenols in cocoa to prevent degenerative brain diseases. A 2013 study conducted at Sbarro Health Research Organization Center for Biotechnology at Temple University and published in Journal of Cellular Biochemistry showed that cocoa polyphenols caused neuroprotection by activating a “survival pathway” on A(beta) oligomer-treated cells, helping to counteract neurite dysfunction.
And, the Life Extension Foundation cites a study published in Hypertension that reports people who ate high or moderate levels of cocoa flavonols for two months showed significant improvement in cognitive assessment tests.
Remember: with cocoa, the darker, the better.
You can obtain Lavado cocoa extracts in health food stores or online. In general, you should opt for minimally processed dark chocolate with a cacao content of over 70 percent. You can also buy dark cocoa in the form of powder, for baking or mixing into your own beverages.
The bottom line: polyphenols in cocoa have the potential to prevent cognitive decline by counteracting damage to vital nerve pathways even before Alzheimer symptoms show up, and may even play a key role in stopping the disease in its tracks. So, to keep your brain functioning – at its best – enjoy the delicious flavor of cocoa.