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Antioxidants from Cocoa May Protect Brains from Developing Dangerous Plaques

Scientists have suspected that cocoa polyphenols, the anti-oxidant compounds found in cocoa and chocolate, might boost brain power. Now research in mice indicates that a special high-polyphenol extract of cacao called Lavado cocoa extract may be able to prevent or reverse some of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Brains afflicted with Alzheimer’s are often crowded with clumps or plaques of beta-amyloid protein. These plaques seem to interfere with message transmission across nerve synapses and trigger damaging inflammatory responses.

In special genetically engineered mice that are susceptible to the buildup of beta-amyloid protein, supplementing the diet with Lavado cocoa extract prevents plaque formation. The scientists compared the effects of Dutched, natural and Lavado extracts and found that Lavado was far more effective in protecting mouse brains. The researchers hope that a dietary supplement containing Lavado cocoa extract might some day be tested and found helpful for preventing Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

[Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, June 20, 2014]

The People’s Pharmacy perspective is always pro-cocoa. This animal research gives us reason to hope that in addition to great taste and better blood pressure control, the polyphenols in cocoa may offer us more opportunity to stay sharp as we age. Animal research on Alzheimer’s disease is frequently disappointing when the attempt is made to translate it to human beings. These researchers seem to be confident that identifying the mechanism by which the cocoa extract is working will give them a better chance of success. In the meantime, consuming high-polyphenol cocoa or chocolate (in moderation, of course) seems like a low-risk strategy with a potentially excellent reward.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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