I make a point to read a lot of research findings on many common foods and nutritional products that will boost heart health. But, many people don’t know that your heart health is directly linked to your brain health. As such, I came across the findings of a recent study that showed that a common food already found to boost heart health a few years ago is now being credited for improving brain health – specifically memory. Let me tell you about it.
The Heart Doctor’s Rx for Good Brain Health
It’s generally accepted amongst doctors and medical researchers that if your heart is healthy, your brain will be. You see, your blood feeds your brain. Your brain health, then, is dependent on how much blood your heart is able to pump to your brain and what crucial nutrients are present (or missing) in your blood.
Technically, it’s called “neurovascular coupling” but, basically, what it means is that certain functions of your brain – like memory and other cognitive learning skills – need greater blood flow to those parts of the brain to power their function.
Now, back almost 2 decades ago, researchers found that dark chocolate – like that in pure cocoa powder – is chock full of heart healthy flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants, present in many fruits and vegetables, which have particular benefit to blood vessels. It helps keep them strong and flexible and less prone to “sclerosing”, or hardening, as in the condition atherosclerosis which limits blood flow throughout your body – even your brain.
Recently, Harvard researchers found, in a study published recently in Neurology, that drinking 2 cups of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate powdered cocoa (like baking cocoa) improved memory in 30 days. And that drinking cocoa regularly may help them keep other thinking skills sharp and lower risk of dementia.
The study was done on 60 people, average age 73, without previous dementia but many with high blood pressure, diabetes and impaired blood flow. The participants were given either 2 cups of the flavonoid-rich cocoa, or flavonoid-poor cocoa (commercial “milk” chocolate mixes). The people with impaired blood flow, who received the flavonoid-rich dark cocoa, showed an 8.3% improvement in blood flow, as proven by ultrasound testing. They also showed improvement on memory and other thinking skills when tested. Researchers feel that the results of this study are an important first step in utilizing cocoa to improve brain function in dementia patients.
But cocoa isn’t the only food rich in flavonoids. You’ll want to add these to your diet as well: Apples, berries, cherries, green tea, black tea, lemons, oranges, wine (in moderation), purple/black plums and nuts.
What Else Can You Do For Good Brain Health?
Well, besides drinking 2 cups of cocoa a day, you can keep your brain healthy by keeping your heart healthy. Here’s how:
1. Heart Healthy Diet. A long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life. Those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure had six times the risk of dementia. Heart health diets like the Mediterranean diet also help your brain stay health.
2. Reduce fat and cholesterol. Studies show that high saturated fat diets and high LDL cholesterol, spells greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Switch to mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like olive oil, for cooking. Bake or grill foods more than frying. If you must fry, use coconut oil instead of animal fats.
3. Exercise. Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes each day gets your heart pumping and your blood circulating better throughout your body.
4. Don’t smoke. Smoking significantly decreases oxygen in the blood. It also weakens vascular structures and interferes with blood flow to the brain. It is the #1 risk factor for heart disease and stroke, a true heart/brain tragedy.
5. Watch your numbers. Control these 4 things – body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Even though the studies showed that older people benefited from drinking cocoa daily, the sooner you start upping your intake of heart/brain healthy flavonoids the better your brain and heart health will be as you get older. Many studies have shown that people who eat more flavonoids are 20% or more, less likely to suffer heart attack or stroke, than those who eat little flavonoid-rich foods. So, add a little hot cocoa to your day and do your brain – and your heart – an amazing amount of good.