Dark Chocolate May Boost Vision & Brain Function

New research has given you more reason to reach into your box of dark chocolates — powering vision and brain performance as early as two-and-one-half hours after eating them!

If the taste and the cardiovascular benefits weren’t temptation enough, a new study published in Physiology & Behavior shows consumption of antioxidants in dark chocolate, called cocoa flavanols (CF), improves visual and cognitive function in young adults.

Eating dark chocolate can improve visual and brain function, a study suggests.

Researchers from the Universityof Readingtested the effects of cocoa on memory and reaction time. “The results of the current study demonstrate for the first time that performance on tests of visual system function in healthy young adults can be improved by the acute consumption of CF”, they reported.

This new study adds to the mountain of data supporting chocolate as a cornerstone in health-minded dietary indulgence. The researchers randomized 30 participants into two groups. One group received 35 grams of dark chocolate during the first week; the other received a white chocolate placebo. The authors switched the intervention that the subjects received during the second week and they administered the same cognitive and ocular exams.

The researchers reported that the results of this randomized, single-blinded, crossover design demonstrated “for the first time performance on tests of visual system function in healthy young adults can be improved by the acute consumption of CF.”

It is likely, the authors deemed, that the “flavonoids are able to influence the function of retinal neurons.” In other words, the potent plant compounds concentrated in cocoa may increase blood flow, particularly to the eye. This increase in blood flow, they suggest, supplies the conductive elements of the brain with the nutrients necessary to optimize function.

Although the study was conducted in young people, the authors suggest that the benefits of cocoa may be more dramatic in elderly persons. The improvements in visual function were primarily observed as contrast sensitivity (CS)—the subjects’ ability to distinguish figures from their backgrounds. Older adults, the authors suggest, “experience a considerable decline in CS,” which may be mitigated by the increased blood flow to the retina and visual cortex observed in groups receiving the cocoa flavanols.

Dark chocolate can also support your brain and body’s defenses against oxidative stress.

Whether you gain improved nerve function, more blood flow, additional antioxidant protection or simply the sheer delight of a piece of chocolate melting on your tongue, dark chocolate is sure to have a benefit for everyone.

Just make sure to choose the right kind—one that is created through minimal heat processing and delivers a high antioxidant value to provide your body with maximum antioxidant benefit.

Reference: Field DT et al. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. Physiology & Behavior 103 (3-4): 255-60. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.02.013

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