PROFESSOR LUPIN'S CURE-ALL. FANS OF THE HARRY POTTER SERIES learned in Book 3, “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” that chocolate was the favorite remedy prescribed by Hogwarts’ Defense Against the Dark Arts course teacher, Professor Remus J. Lupin. Chunks of chocolate administered by Lupin helped Harry recover from his encounter with dementors while riding the Hogwarts Express train to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at the beginning of the semester.
The Professor does not specify whether milk versus dark chocolate is better for fighting off the effects of dark magic. However, reCently, scientists seem to have been busy working to investigate the differences. One optometry study noted that dark chocolate helped improve some aspects of vision shortly after ingestion. Another group of scientists reported on two small studies that showed it improved brain function and blood markers of immunity.
Why study chocolate? Previous research suggests that chocolate rich in cacao bean flavanols may enhance blood flow to the nervous system (brain and nerves) and functioning of the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), slow memory loss, and retard the signs and symptoms of degenerative brain conditions, such as Parkinson and Alzheimer diseases. Mood and cognition (thinking) have been helped too.
Cacao bean flavanols are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
[Note: Oxidants are molecules, often composed in part of oxygen atoms, which are highly unstable and thus quickly and easily can react with and damage nearby tissues. Oxidants are produced in the body in the course of normal functioning, but the presence of endogenous (natural, in-house) antioxidants prevents damage from occurring. In the face of an oxidant/anti-oxidant imbalance, either too much oxidant is produced or not enough anti-oxidant is available, tissue damage can result. The body’s usual response to damage, either from anti-oxidants or other causes like infection, trauma, etc., is inflammation. Anti-oxidants help prevent this oxidant type of damage and thus inflammation as well. Biological pathways that lead to heightened inflammation can be dampened by anti-inflammatory agents too.
DARK CHOCOLATE & VISION
Researchers at the University of the Incarnate Word, Rosenberg School of Optometry in San Antonio TX found there were “small enhancements in visual acuity and contrast sensitivity” and after subjects ate dark chocolate with >70% cacao compared with milk chocolate. The effects were noted within 2 hours of chocolate consumption.
The 30 research subjects, 9 men and 21 women with a mean age of 26 years, were without known eye disease. Each was randomly assigned to eat the milk or dark type of chocolate at different times during the study and underwent vision testing about 1.75 hours after ingestion. Testing of each participant with the other chocolate type occurred after at least 72 hours had elapsed, with a range of 3-21 days between each type of chocolate testing. To assess the outcomes, “within-participant, paired comparisons“ were made.
The chocolate bars were commercially available Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate (40 grams) and Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate. (47 grams). The amount of flavanols was about 8 times less in the milk chocolate than in the dark. Participants were not aware of the chocolate bar name or type or the purpose of the study, but taste differences could have tipped them off as to the kind of chocolate they were eating. investigators administering the tests were not masked however.
The scientists admit that the duration of these improvements, probably related to enhanced retinal blood flow, and their significance to real-life functioning will require further research.
DARK CHOCOLATE & IMMUNITY, BRAIN FUNCTION
Participants in an 8-day study, conducted by researchers from California’s Loma Linda University Allied School of Health Professions, were first asked to eat a 48-gram bar of 70% cacao dark chocolate over 10 minutes, and then had blood tests drawn after 2 hours. They were instructed to eat 48 grams of 70% cacao dark chocolate/day (2 pieces per hour, while awake for 14 hours), with blood tests drawn again after 1 week. The tests showed changes in gene expression and increased numbers of infection-fighting cells and anti-inflammatory activity. There were 4 test subjects (2 females and 2 males, aged 25-50 years) and one control (female, 28 years). The dark chocolate used was Parliament Chocolate from Redlands CA.
A separate investigation by the same group showed brain electrical wave, gamma-frequency responses (assessed by EEG-electroencephalogram at 30 minutes and then 120 minutes after ingestion) which suggested brain functioning could be helped as soon as 2 hours after eating dark chocolate. In this case 5 healthy subjects aged 22-40 years were involved.
The lead scientist, Lee S. Berk was quoted in a ScineceDaily.com article, “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."
The results were to be presented in poster sessions at the Experimental Biology Conference 2018 in San Diego and abstracts were published in the FASEB Journal (there is no full text available).
EARNED RUNS: Our attempts to become fit, healthy individuals with exercise and diet might be helped by small daily doses of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agents like dark chocolate. To know that it might also enhance blood flow to vital tissues like the retina and enhance brain cardiovascular and endocrine function pushes it higher on the list of nutritional aids to try. As with all other foods known to have health benefits, there is the trick of not overdoing a good thing that will add pounds and increase the risk of obesity.
Very dark chocolate, with a high percent cacao and low sugar content might not have a taste or mouthfeel that appeals to all. It can be bitter and hard. Not everyone will wish to spend calories on dark chocolate (170 calories per 30 gm, Trader Joe’s; 72% Organic Belgian). The Loma Linda team seems to be working to determine the lowest dosing regimen that will provide brain benefits.
I hope to taste test the Trader Joe’s and Parliament brands (nutrition information not found) used in this research! The chocolate with the highest cacao content is the winner in these few studies it seems and maybe this is good news for milk chocoholics. Perhaps we won't be tempted to overdo eating the dark stuff.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
“Effects of Milk vs Dark Chocolate Consumption on Visual Acuity and Contrast Sensitivity Within 2 Hours”
“Dark chocolate (70% cacao) effects human gene expression: Cacao regulates cellular immune response, neural signaling, and sensory perception”
“Dark chocolate (70% organic cacao) increases acute and chronic EEG power spectral density (μV2) response of gamma frequency (25–40 Hz) for brain health: enhancement of neuroplasticity, neural synchrony, cognitive processing, learning, memory, recall, and mindfulness meditation” https://www.fasebj.org/doi/10.1096/fasebj.2018.32.1_supplement.878.10
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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