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New chocolate may help prevent Alzheimer’s: study

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A novel chocolate containing dietary cocoa extracts may possibly prevent age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and promote healthy brain ageing, researchers have claimed.

Cocoa extracts contain polyphenols, which are micronutrients that have many health benefits, Giulio Maria Pasinetti from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in US, lead author of the study, said.

“There is strong scientific evidence supporting the growing interest in developing cocoa extract, and potentially certain dietary chocolate preparations, as a natural source to maintain and promote brain health, and in particular to prevent age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers said.

Previous studies suggest that certain cocoa extract preparations may prevent or possibly delay Alzheimer’s disease in animal experimental models of the disease, in part by inhibiting the generation and promoting the clearance of toxic proteins, including beta-amyloid and abnormal tau aggregates in the brain through mechanisms mediated by polyphenols.

The role of cocoa polyphenols in preventing abnormal accumulation of toxic protein aggregates in the brain would play a pivotal role in preventing the loss of synapses that are critical for functional connection among neurons.

Recent clinical studies appear to confirm the potential beneficial role of certain cocoa extracts in delaying cognitive ageing, researchers said.

The benefits of cocoa polyphenols in preventing synapse loss and in preserving and restoring synaptic function may provide a viable and important strategy for preserving cognitive function, thereby protecting against the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, they said.

In spite of the promises of cocoa polyphenols for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease, researchers hypothesise that there is a need for multidisciplinary collaborative efforts involving cocoa producers, wholesalers, and the biomedical community if we want to succeed in the development of cocoa extract for health benefits.

Evidence suggests that certain procedures used in cocoa processing can significantly influence its polyphenol content, ultimately influencing its biological activity.

Two of the most common processing techniques for the chocolate we consume have been reported to result in the loss of as much as 90 per cent of the polyphenols in cocoa, researchers said.

Pasinetti notes that ongoing research will provide an opportunity to strengthen our understanding of the beneficial roles of cocoa polyphenols and improve cocoa development and processing in order to promote healthy brain ageing and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.