by Amanda MacMillan
photo: Grant Cornett Breaking news from the totally sweet department: A new study shows that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may help people keep their brains healthy and their thinking skills sharp. But before you go guzzling down the cocoa Kool-Aid, take note: The research was done on older adults (average age 73), and the authors say there's no hard evidence that it will do the same for a younger population.
Published today in the journal Neurology, the study involved 60 participants, 18 of whom had impaired blood flow to working areas of the brain -- a condition that experts believe may play a role in disease such as Alzheimer's.
All participants were given two cups of hot cocoa a day -- and no other chocolate -- for 30 days; they were also given tests to measure their memory and thinking skills at the beginning and end of the study.
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By the month's end, an 8.3 percent improvement in blood flow to the brain was seen in those people who started out with impairment. Those same people also improved their times on memory tests, slashing their recall rates from 167 seconds to 116 seconds on average. Those who had regular blood flow to begin with, however, saw no improvement for either metric.
Besides the potential health benefit of chocolate, the authors say, this study also demonstrates the connection between healthy blood vessels and thinking skills. "As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their task, they also need greater blood flow," says lead author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, of Harvard Medical School.
Alas, Sorond also says there's no reason to suspect that sipping hot chocolate now, while our blood vessels are flowing just fine and our brains are still healthy, will prevent future damage or make us suddenly smarter. (For that, we're better off drinking good ol' H2O.) But hey, there are still plenty of other reasons to indulge in a daily dose of dark, decadent, antioxidant-rich chocolate, right?
All this talk has got me craving something rich! What's your favorite healthy chocolate recipe?
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by Amanda MacMillan