Is Hot Chocolate Mind-Altering? The Answer is Surprising

Much to the excitement of chocoholics everywhere, cocoa (the key ingredient in high quality hot chocolate) has been found to benefit cognitive functioning by reversing cognitive decline later in life, thanks to nutrient-rich flavanols.

The 2014 study, headed by Dr. Scott Small of Columbia University Medical Center, concluded that cocoa flavanols improved memory significantly. Previous studies conducted with mice were promising, but Dr. Small’s study successfully identified a causal relationship between cocoa flavanol consumption and enhanced memory in humans.

A type of flavanoid, cocoa flavanols impact the brain by improving blood flow to an identified memory center — the dentate gyrus. In a controlled study of 37 participants, Columbia University Medical Center revealed high-flavanol diets resulted in improved cognitive functioning and memory recall, two of the abilities attacked by Alzheimer’s Disease.

Because Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline greatly impair an individual’s ability to live independently later in life, the recent findings may have positive implications for the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s important to note that, although exciting, the results do not support the belief that consuming more commercially processed chocolate will lead to improved memory.

In fact, Columbia University Medical Center’s recent study used a special high-flavanol drink formulation, not brand name chocolate candy commonly found in stores. Researchers specifically caution against over-consumption of processed chocolate, as it will not provide the same benefits.

Additionally, the calming effect of hot chocolate can help individuals struggling with stress and anxiety. A go-to drink for brisk, cold mornings or chilly fall afternoons, hot chocolate has long been touted for its ability to keep imbibers cozy, warm, and energized. But, a steaming cup of the cocoa elixir may also reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by stabilizing blood pressure.

A 2008 study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, a figure previously above average according to medically defined limits, after participants consumed flavanol-rich drinks daily. Other studies conducted on flavanoids, a type of phytochemical or micronutrient found in many plant-based foods, reveal a similar reduction in cardiovascular disease and oxidative damage in adults, according to a review of scientific literature on the subject.

So, how can the public put science to work, improve health and memory, and still enjoy the rich flavors of chocolate? Instead of opting for hot chocolate mixes, experts recommend making traditional hot cocoa using quality, non-dutched cocoa powder. Further health benefits from antioxidants and super foods, like almonds, can be added to hot chocolate by opting for organic honey and almond milk.

Who knew enjoying chocolate could be so good for you?

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