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Dark chocolate may protect brain after stroke by increasing cellular signals: Researchers

November 11, 2017

Scientists have been intrigued by the potential health benefits of epicatechin by studying the Kuna Indians, a remote population living on islands off the coast of Panama. The islands' residents had a low incidence of cardiovascular disease. Scientists who studied them found nothing striking in the genes and realized that when they moved away from Kuna, they were no longer protected from heart problems. Researchers soon discovered the reason was likely environmental: The residents of Kuna regularly drank a very bitter cocoa drink, with a consistency like molasses, instead of coffee or soda. The drink was high in the compound epicatechin, which is a flavanol, a flavanoid-related compound.

But Dor- says his research suggests the amount needed could end up being quite small because the suspected beneficial mechanism is indirect. "Epicatechin itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly, but instead, epicatechin, and its metabolites, may be prompting the cells to defend themselves," he suggests.

The epicatechin is needed to jump-start the protective pathway that is already present within the cells. "Even a small amount may be sufficient," Dor- says.

Not all dark chocolates are created equally, he cautions. Some have more bioactive epicatechin than others.

"The epicatechin found in dark chocolate is extremely sensitive to changes in heat and light" he says. "In the process of making chocolate, you have to make sure you don't destroy it. Only few chocolates have the active ingredient. The fact that it says 'dark chocolate' is not sufficient."

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions