If you’re a “Chocoholic”, it’s time to rejoice because
scientists have recently found dark chocolate to be a potentially beneficial
snack. A team of researchers from Hotchkiss Brain Institute Cumming School of
Medicine, University of Calgary in Canada have discovered that dark chocolate
helps improve cognitive ability, more specifically, memory formation.
Dark chocolate contains the flavanol, Epicatechin (Epi), a
compound found in many plant-based foods. Epi is the key to memory enhancement.
Greater Epi intake correlates to a greater cognitive performance, especially
amongst older people. It helps the brain rapidly overcome the stress that is preventing
it from storing and relaying information to other parts of the body.
This discovery was made through a series of experiments
involving a certain species of snails called Lymnaea. During a half-hour Training Session, their respiratory
behaviour in water was manipulated in a low-oxygen aquatic environment. Their
pneumostomes (respiratory openings) were artificially stimulated to close
whenever the snail attempts to respire. 24 hours later, they undergo a
half-hour Memory Test to measure the number of times their pneumostomes open.
This is done to observe if there have been behavioural
changes in the snail. Snails learn in the training session to reduce the number
of times their pneumostomes open. They store that information as long-term memory,
thereby expressing a different behaviour in the memory test. This is where Epi
comes into play in this intricate and complicated setup. Evidence that
long-term memory has formed in the snail comes in the form of a significantly
lower pneumostome opening count in the memory test compared to during the training
session. This new behaviour is attributed to Epi being the stimulant.
Interestingly, it was found that Epi is only effective in enhancing
long-term memory formation when applied during the consolidation period, which
is immediately after the training session, when the snail is processing and
storing the memory.
New research shows that Epi alters neurone activity, thereby
affecting respiration, memory formation and other neural processes like reconsolidation,
extinction and forgetting. However, much of this new information requires
further research in order to shed light on how exactly Epi works to improve
As you’d discover, you are much more similar to snails that
you’d think. The difference is that rather than obtaining our Epi from a
solution, we may consume it in dark chocolate. Needless to say, it is a much
tastier alternative. While this has yet to be tested on humans, the results
from the experiments on the snails is the breakthrough we needed to learn about
the effects of Epi on memory. Soon, we might start seeing more dark chocolate
in our diets!