A study published by Northern Arizona University is bound to make health gurus and chocolate enthusiasts rejoice.
It turns out there is another reason to love chocolate. High-cacao chocolate lowers blood pressure and improves attention, as demonstrated in a study sponsored by Hershey and conducted by Michelle Montopoli, an NAU alumna and student at the time of the study.
Previous studies have shown the flavanols in cacao can decrease blood pressure and over time can reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
Until now though, no study has been done that incorporates chocolate consumption with electroencephalography, or EEG technology. EEG studies take images of the brain while it is performing a cognitive task and measure the brain activity.
The study was done on 122 participants between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. The researchers examined the EEG levels and blood pressure effects of consuming 60 percent cacao chocolate compared with five control conditions. Participants were given a small serving of chocolate based on their weight and were not aware of which type of chocolate they were receiving.
The results show that the brains of participants who consumed 60 percent cacao chocolate’s were more alert and attentive after consumption. Their blood pressure also increased for a short time.
“Chocolate is indeed a stimulant and it activates the brain in a really special way,” says Larry Stevens, professor of psychological sciences, NAU. “A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention.”
He notes that milk chocolate with higher levels of sugar and lower levels of cacao wouldn’t be as effective.
Both Hershey and the researchers have taken interest in one of the control options, a 60 percent cacao chocolate with L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that acts as a relaxant. This combination is not on the market yet, but it proves to be promising.
Participants who consumed high-cacao content chocolate with L-theanine were recorded having an immediate drop in blood pressure.
“L-theanine is a really fascinating product that lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful,” says Stevens.
“The potential here is for a heart healthy chocolate confection that contains a high level of cacao with L-theanine that is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you pay attention.”
The Hershey Co. sponsored this study by providing individually wrapped chocolate samples with varying levels of cacao.