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Imaging Helps Confirm Chocolate Is Brain Food

August 9, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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OK, we admit upfront that imaging plays only a secondary role in this story. But ultrasound and MRI did help show that chocolate can be good for brain functioning. And that’s excellent news as far as we’re concerned.

Researchers did baseline tests on a group of 60 people in their late 60s to late 70s (average age 73) for neurovascular coupling, or NVC (a relationship in the brain between neuronal activity and blood flow), and mental performance. The researchers used ultrasound to measure blood flow and MRI to evaluate white matter in the brain.

The subjects were tested again after consuming cocoa for 24 hours and after drinking two cups a day of either high-flavanol or low-flavanol cocoa for 30 days. Flavanols, normally abundant in cocoa, have been shown to protect circulatory health and brain function.

After a month of cocoa consumption, neurovascular coupling and mental performance improved—but only among those who had impaired blood flow to the brain in the first place. MRI also showed more viable white matter. Results of the study were published online Wednesday in Neurology.

Unfortunately, the study’s lead author, Farzaneh Sorond, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has bad news for those seeking an excuse to add a minimum daily requirement of chocolate to their diets:

We’re several steps removed from that recommendation.

Dr. Sorond was quoted by Reuters Health. One problem is that low cerebral blood flow is often associated with diabetes and high blood pressure, and people with those conditions shouldn’t be adding more sugar, fat, and calories to their diets. In fact, the researchers aren’t sure just what substance or substances in cocoa affected blood flow. Previous studies had pointed to flavanols, but both the high-flavanol and low-flavanol groups showed basically the same improvement.

“One possible explanation is that the previously reported responses to flavanol-rich cocoa were not entirely driven by flavanols, but another component(s) of cocoa,” the authors wrote in Neurology. “Alternatively, it is conceivable that the regulation is so exquisitely sensitive to flavanols that even the slight amounts contained in the flavanol-poor drink were sufficient to improve NVC.”

The authors called for more research using PET or functional MRI to get a better look at what is going on in the brain.

Any volunteers?

* * *

Functional MRI shows the brain reacts differently to instrumental music than to songs with lyrics. For details, waltz on over to our Facebook page.

Related CME seminar (up to 21 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging


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