Presented on Tuesday at the ongoing five-day Experimental Biology 2018 meeting in San Diego, US, two studies revealed for the first time the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time.
Cacao is a major source of flavonoids.
“These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects,” said Lee Berk, a researcher in psychoneuroimmunology and food science from Loma Linda University and principal investigator on both studies.
They focused on the impact of 70 percent cacao chocolate consumption on human immune and dendritic cell gene expression, with focus on pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
The study assessed the electroencephalography (EEG) response to consuming 48g of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao) after an acute period of time (30 minutes) and after a chronic period of time (120 minutes), on modulating brain frequencies 0-40Hz, specifically beneficial gamma frequency (25 to 40Hz).
Study findings showed that cacao consumption up-regulated multiple intracellular signaling pathways involved in T-cell activation, cellular immune response and genes involved in neural signaling and sensory perception, the latter potentially associated with the phenomena of brain hyperplasticity.
Berk said the studies, however, require further investigation, specifically to determine the significance of these effects for immune cells and the brain in larger study populations.
According to Berk, further research is in progress to elaborate on the mechanisms that may be involved in the cause-and-effect brain-behavior relationship with cacao at this high concentration.