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Dark chocolate makes the brain more alert and attentive
A new study shows that eating dark chocolate with 60% cocoa content can stimulate the brain and improve alertness and attention span.
This is great news for chocolate lovers. A new study published in NeuroRegulation shows that low-sugar dark chocolate can increase the brain’s attention span, and help people get over the afternoon slump. The analysis, which was partly sponsored by (the) US chocolate company Hershey’s, is the first to examine the effect on the brain, but also the first to use an electroencephalogram to study cognitive ability after eating chocolate.
Larry Stevens, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona wanted to find out whether people who ate chocolate experienced an immediate stimulant effect. Chocolate has always been recognized as a vasodilator: it dilates the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure in the long term. But chocolate also contains powerful stimulants.
Useful for those with high blood pressure
In a series of tests, the scientist and his team analysed the brain activity of 122 volunteers aged 18 to 25, asking them to eat dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60%. The EEG then took images of their brains. Michelle Montipoli, who was still a student when the study was carried out, ran the EEG test phase which consisted in measuring the sample sizes based on the weight of the participants who were blinded to the study.
The results of the study showed that the brain of those who consume chocolate produced more signs of vigilance and attention. Their blood pressure also increased over a short period. “Chocolate is a stimulant and activates the brain in a special way” says Larry Stevens. “It can increase brain characteristics of attention, and it also significantly affects blood pressure levels.” When your vision becomes blurred, eat a piece of chocolate!
The advantages of theanine
The most important finding however, was that this chocolate with 60% cacao content contains theanine, an amino acid which is present in green tea, and which acts as a relaxant. “Theanine is a really fascinating substance which lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful” explains Stevens. “We thought that if chocolate increases very high blood pressure, theanine lowers it, and so perhaps theanine would counteract the short-term hypertensive effects of chocolate.”
Stevens hopes that these results will encourage manufacturers to investigate further and to consider the health benefits of producing a bar of chocolate with high cacao and theanine content. Millions of patients nationwide suffer from high blood pressure and eating chocolate bars every afternoon could be beneficial. In this way, their blood pressure could fall to normal levels, and they would be more alert and attentive.