Eating dark chocolate helped rid the brain of the effects of chronic stress

(ORDO NEWS) — The authors of the new study examined the effects of various dark chocolate-supplemented diets on synaptic activity and plasticity in the hippocampus, as well as on food intake and body weight in chronically stressed rats.

Iranian physiologists from the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences analyzed how dark chocolate consumption affects brain function under conditions of chronic stress.

Using rodents as an example, they studied the effect of various diets on synaptic activity and plasticity of the cA-1 layer of the hippocampus, a part of the brain’s limbic system involved in the transition of short-term memory to long-term and spatial memory, as well as the formation of emotions.

Dark chocolate needs no introduction, since its history, according to some sources, goes back five and a half thousand years: it was then that representatives of the Mayo-Chinchipe culture began to use cocoa fruits on the territory of modern Ecuador. Subsequently, the Maya drank it as a bitter fermented drink, mixed with spices or wine.

Dark chocolate contains 50 to 90 percent cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar, while milk chocolate contains only 10 to 50 percent cocoa powder, cocoa butter, some form of milk, and sugar.

Butter fat, vegetable oils, artificial colors and flavors can be added to a product of lower quality. There is no cocoa powder in white chocolate at all – only its butter, sugar and milk.

Since dark chocolate contains more cocoa beans rich in flavonols, it is healthier. Flavanols – plant polyphenols – support the production of nitric oxide in endolethal cells, which helps to relax the smooth muscles in the walls of blood vessels, improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure and inhibiting platelet adhesion to the vessel wall.

In addition, previous research has shown that the flavanols in chocolate may increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of diabetes.

The subjects in the new study were 35 rats, which were divided into five groups of seven individuals. Each followed a different dietary regimen corresponding to “forced”, “optional” and “restricted” stress.

“The stressed animals received only chocolate, while the facultative diet rats received unlimited food and/or chocolate. The rats that survived the stress on the restricted diet ate only four grams of dark chocolate per day,” the scientists write.

The researchers assessed the excitatory postsynaptic potential in rodents, measured their body weight and food intake at the beginning of the experiment and after it.

As a result, it turned out that dark chocolate helped animals reduce weight and the amount of food consumed.

The effect was most pronounced in the forced and restricted diet-induced stress groups: in these subjects, the deleterious effects of chronic stress on synaptic activity and hippocampal plasticity, as well as learning and memory, were reversed.

In the future, the scientists plan to validate their results in humans and provide solid evidence for the effects of dark chocolate on the brain and cognition.

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