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Image result for dark chocolate Two new studies finding benefits from chocolate consumption: dark chocolate boosting athletic performance (in cycling), and long-term chocolate consumption (several times a week for many years) linked to better cognitive function. From Medical Xpress:

Eating chocolate improves cognitive function, study finds

People who ate chocolate at least once a week performed better on multiple cognitive tasks, compared to those who ate chocolate less frequently, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maine, University of South Australia and Luxembourg Institute of Health that has garnered international attention. 

With age, education, gender, age and race controlled, cognitive tasks were related to following domains, each measured by multiple tests: Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Abstract Verbal Reasoning, Scanning and Tracking, and overall cognitive functioning. The 968 participants ages 23–98 in the study came from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study, directed by Elias, which has tracked more than 1,000 people over 35 years.

The researchers hypothesized that regular intake of cocoa flavanols may be one of several mechanism explaining the cognitive benefits of chocolate. In addition, compared to those who never or rarely ate chocolate, those who ate chocolate weekly had higher total and LDL cholesterol, but lower glucose levels. Hypertension and Type 2 diabetes also were lower in regular chocolate consumers than in nonconsumers. 

From Medical Xpress: Eating dark chocolate as a daily snack could help boost athletic performance, study suggests

Dark chocolate has already been hailed for its positive effects on cardiovascular health – and now a study undertaken at London's Kingston University has found the tasty treat could help give sports enthusiasts an extra edge in their fitness training. A team led by postgraduate research student Rishikesh Kankesh Patel discovered that dark chocolate provides similar benefits to beetroot juice, now taken regularly by elite athletes after studies showed it can improve performance. "Beetroot juice is rich in nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption – allowing athletes to go further for longer," Mr Patel explained.

The Kingston University team wanted to find out whether dark chocolate could provide a similar boost, as it contains a substance called epicatechin – a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean, that also increases nitric oxide production in the body.

To test the theory, Mr Patel carried out a study with a group of nine amateur cyclists.....After undergoing initial fitness tests to establish a baseline for comparison, the participants were then split into two groups. The first group was asked to replace one of its normal daily snacks with 40 g of a dark chocolate known to be rich in flavanols for a fortnight, while the other participants substituted 40 g of white chocolate for one of their daily snacks as a control.

The effects of the athletes' daily chocolate consumption were then measured in a series of cycling exercise tests in the sports performance laboratory at the University's Penrhyn Road campus....The study, which has now been published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that after eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.

Chocolate lovers are rejoicing! From the NY Times:

To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate

Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age. In a small study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, healthy people, ages 50 to 69, who drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months performed better on a memory test than people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.

On average, the improvement of high-flavanol drinkers meant they performed like people two to three decades younger on the study’s memory task, said Dr. Scott A. Small,a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s senior author. They performed about 25 percent better than the low-flavanol group.

The findings support recent research linking flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. But experts said the new study, although involving only 37 participants and partly funded by Mars Inc.,the chocolate company, goes further and was a well-controlled, randomized trial led by experienced researchers.

Besides improvements on the memory test — a pattern recognition test involving the kind of skill used in remembering where you parked the car or recalling the face of someone you just met — researchers found increased function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, which has been linked to this type of memory.

To consume the high-flavanol group’s daily dose of epicatechin, 138 milligrams, would take eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — about seven average-sized bars. Or possibly about 100 grams of baking chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder, but concentrations vary widely depending on the processing. Milk chocolate has most epicatechin processed out of it.

More extensive research is planned. As for why flavanols would help memory, one theory is that they improve brain blood flow; another, favored by Dr. Small, is that they cause dendrites, message-receiving branches of neurons, to grow.