Cocoa may protect the brains and reduce inflammation in the hearts of children who live in polluted environments resulting in restored cognitive function

October 03, 2013

Air pollution is linked to systemic inflammation; persistent low-level inflammation throughout our body. For this reason it is linked to lung and heart disease and disease-related deaths. The inhalation of pollutants is also linked to inflammation in and low-level damage to the brain. Most children living in Mexico City exhibit subtle cognitive deficits. Neuropathology studies show 40% of them exhibit frontal tau phosphorylation (a finding found in dementia) and 51% exhibit beta-amyloid plaques (seen in Alzheimer’s disease); this is compared to 0% in children exposed to low levels of pollution who served as the controls in this study. These pathologies are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The Mexico City children in this study were then fed real cocoa daily in the form of super concentrated (as far as the antioxidant value) dark chocolate for 9 to 24 days. Inflammation raises endothelin-1. Endothelin-1 is a powerful vasoconstrictor in our body meaning it squeezes our blood vessels and raises blood pressure and if chronically released it contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Cocoa significantly lowered endothelin-1 activity. Out of this came a marginally significant improvement in the performance of one or both simple short term memory tasks.

Dysfunction of blood vessels is a key feature of exposure to pollution. Decreasing endothelin-1 activity helps restore blood vessel function and this is a reason why cocoa helps restore or improve brain function in people in regions with particulate matter pollution; the kind of pollution in the air that you inhale. The research was performed at the University of Montana Missoula Center for Structural and Functional Neurosciences and at the Hospital Central Militar in Mexico City. The Montana based researcher’s state that cocoa may help protect the brains of children exposed to pollution and may lower systemic inflammation. It may help protect cognitive function and help prevent the related shrinking of the brain restricting the development of cognitive deficits and the pathology related to dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The study is published in the August 2013 issue of the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.