October 20, 2015

Dark Chocolate May Make You Smarter, Adventist Study Says

, news editor, Adventist Review

Dark chocolate has long been linked to certain health benefits, but a new Loma Linda University study indicates that the rich delicacy may also improve memory, increase intelligence, and even put you in a better mood.

The preliminary research suggests that dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70 percent affects regions of the brain associated with learning and memory, promoting nerve cell growth, increased brain function and communication, blood flow improvement, and the formation of blood vessels in the brain and sensory systems.

“We have for the first time shown that there a possible connection of neuroelectric activities that initiate the mechanisms of cacao's beneficial effects on brain reasoning and intellect, synchronization, memory, recall, mood, and behavior,” said Lee Berk, a public doctor and lead researcher of the team at the Seventh-day Adventist-owned institution in southern California.

While additional research is needed, Berk said, the initial findings represent “the wave of the future” for studies about the benefits of “healthy chocolate” on the brain.

Previous studies have shown that dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that improve cardiovascular health.

The latest findings may raise questions among Adventist believers who wonder whether chocolate should be consumed at all. Allen R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless, the former and current directors, respectively, of the Adventist world church’s health ministries department, have dismissed such concerns.

“Much of the debate [about chocolate] comes from repeated assertions that chocolate contains caffeine,” the two medical doctors co-wrote in an article published in the Adventist Review in 2007. “In fact, the caffeine content is in no way comparable to that in tea, coffee, or caffeinated beverages, being of a magnitude of one-tenth to one-fifteenth as much. Some of the factors in chocolate may actually be very healthful.”

The doctors noted that dark chocolate — not milk chocolate or white chocolate — appeared to play a role in lowering blood pressure. 

An important caveat is that a person should use chocolate sparingly, bearing in mind the associated sugar present in almost all chocolate and the fact that optimal, healthful amounts have not yet been determined, Landless told the Adventist Review on Monday. 

“Milk chocolate is often rich in fat and sugar,” Landless said by e-mail. “All chocolate consumption should be in moderation — one to two squares (not bars!) daily. Be sure to balance the diet with a variety of foods that are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals found in many fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables.”

Landless and Handysides also expressed strong doubts in their article that Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White had concerns about chocolate in her day, pointing out that an examination of her archived grocery lists showed that she purchased chocolate.

Berk presented Loma Linda University’s findings at Neuroscience 2015, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Chicago on Oct. 18.

“We are tremendously excited about what these findings could potentially mean for brain health,” Berk said in an e-mailed statement Monday.