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Dark Chocolate Boosts the Brain
(This is an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph, "Training Your Brain")

Dark chocolate boosts your brain while protecting you from heart disease and cancer. Eating approximately 20-150g a day of dark chocolate can improve your learning and your memory. Improved blood flow carries more oxygen to the brain, enabling you to think quicker for longer. Your blood vessels relax, reducing blood pressure, brain damage and risk of heart disease. In February 2007, the American Academy of Science, from two separate studies, one in the US and one in the UK, reported that dark chocolate was not an old vice, but a modern-day life saver. Welcoming the news, nutritionists pointed out that the finding applied only to dark chocolate and warned chocoholics to avoid the pale dairy stuff. In a way we have come full circle, because chocolate was originally brought from South America to the court of the Spanish Empire as a medication and brain stimulant. The Spanish court apparently kept this a state secret on pain of death! High in antioxidants, dark chocolate has more fIavonoids. even than green tea. Professor Ian MacDonald found the increased blood flows in the cerebral cortex persisted for three hours after eating dark chocolate. Dr Helen Berg of Harvard found that rates of heart disease were lower by 1,280 per cent in part of the world (for example, Panama), where drinking dark chocolate was part of the everyday diet. Deaths from cancer were 680 per cent lower. Rates for strokes and diabetes were also low. Dark chocolate contains epicatechin, a mineral so vital to health that Professor Hollenberg would like to see it classified as a vitamin. The efficacy of flavonoids like Epicatechin are undermined by sugar and dairy products, hence the need to eat your chocolate dark! Although the calorie content of dark chocolate is much lower than milk/white chocolate, it's not calorie free - this needs to be kept in mind if you are on a calorie-controlled diet!

The brain science of dark chocolate A heart-felt plea
You need the magnesium in dark chocolate to decrease the coagulation of your blood. This will help your heart to deliver more oxygen to your brain. This will not only raise the thinking speed and thinking power of your brain, it will also protect your brain from the damage caused by high blood pressure. One of the easiest ways to add magnesium to your diet is to eat dark chocolate (Jensen).

Dark chocolate lifts depression
Dark chocolate contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs). These allow the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain to remain higher for longer, alleviating depression and producing feelings of well-being.

Dark chocolate: the new vitamin
Free radicals attack and oxidize the DNA in your brain, creating growth points for tumours, as well as the onset of premature ageing. Cheng Lee at Comell University, USA showed that dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, called flavonols. Aavonols mop up the free radicals before they can oxidize your brain. Dark chocolate is twice as rich in antioxidant flavonols as red wine and three times richer than green tea. The flavonols in dark chocolate also make your blood platelets less likely to stick together and thus less likely to cause brain damage through a stroke. Lee found that a normal cup of drinking chocolate, based on dark chocolate, contained about 600 mg of the flavonoid epicatechin.

Dark chocolate better than broccoli
The US Department of Agriculture compared the ORAC scores of well-known brain foods like spinach, blueberries and broccoli, with dark chocolate (ORAC scores measure the concentration of flavonoid antioxidants in foods):

Broccoli 890
Sprouted alfafa 930
Plums 949 Sprouts 980
Raspberries 1 ,220
Spinach 1 ,260
Strawberries 1 ,540
Kale/Cabbage 1 ,770
Blackberries 2,036 Blueberries 2,400

DARK CHOCOLATE 13,120

Dark chocolate: a safer 'buzz' than caffeine
Eating dark chocolate substantially increases your mental speed and energy because it contains the brain stimulant theobromine. (Dark chocolate is virtually free of caffeine, which can also give your brain a temporary boost, but caffeine has fatiguing short­term side-effects and more dangerous long-term side-effects.) Dark chocolate contains about 21 per cent theobromine (up to 450 mg per oz). Theobromine works as a brain stimulant by relaxing muscles helping to dilate veins and arteries thus allowing blood to flow more easily to the brain. The effect of theobromine is gentler and more sustained than that of caffeine. It lasts four times longer and is kinder to your heart. Theobromine has actually been prescribed for heart patients to help lower blood pressure. Caffeine, on the other hand, is life-threatening to many heart patients, because it raises blood pressure and thus potentially damages the brain.

Get a grip
Dark chocolate contains PEA (phenylethylamine). PEA activates the neurotransmitters in your brain that control mental attention, concentration and alertness. Your levels of PEA go up naturally, without chocolate, when you are gripped by a great movie or are enjoying a good book, or are wholly engrossed in a football match, a work project or a computer game. Elevated levels of PEA can cause you to lose track of time. This is why time seems to fly when you are enjoying yourself. PEA is present in higher levels in 'blissful' people (see Chapter 02). It is also found in dark chocolate. Good ql,Jality dark chocolate can contain up to 2.2 per cent PEA.

The brain's BLISS chemical
Dark chocolate contains anandamide - a cannabinoid brain chemical known as a 'BLISS chemical', because it is produced in the brain when you feel good (see Chapter 02). The anandamide released in your brain when you feel good acts on your brain the same way as the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in cannabis but because anandamide does not act on the whole of your brain, like cannabis does, then you can feel good without losing your mind. You do not feel 'out of it', like you would on cannabis. Anandamide is a natural brain chemical that is not known to have harmful side-effects, unless you would regard BLISS as harmful. In fact BLISS is strongly correlated with good health (see Chapter 02) and the anandamide in dark chocolate is the brain's own BLISS chemical.

The secret of eternal youth?
MAOls (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) in dark chocolate work by allowing increased levels of anandamine and dopamine to circulate in the brain. It is the high level of anandamine and dopamine that distinguishes the brains of children from the brains of most adults because, in general, as you get older the levels of these neurotransmitters decrease. This decrease is associated with a decrease in physical and mental spontaneity and joy. You are as young as you think and feel and the MAOls in dark chocolate can help to keep your neurotransmitter levels nearer to the levels of your youth (Causens).

And so to bed
Dark chocolate produces endorphins that induce the loving feelings that often lead to sex. The same endorphins also facilitate the euphoria of the 'afterglow'.

The effect of sex on your brain
The effect of sex on your thinking depends on whether or not your pre-sex stress levels are excessive, whether or not you have an orgasm, and what type of thinking you are concerned about.

 

   
   
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