Supercharge Your Brain's Stress Resilience With This Tasty Ingredient

There's a reason dark chocolate is one of the wellness world's favorite treats.

Supercharge Your Brain's Stress Resilience With This Tasty Ingredient
Oatmeal Topped With Banana, Chocolate, Shredded Coconut And Blueberries

August 7, 2022 — 11:05 AM

There's a reason dark chocolate is one of the wellness world's favorite desserts. The antioxidant-rich treat has been shown to support cardiovascular health, blood sugar balance, and, of course, taste bud satisfaction. A new preclinical study in rats hints at one more potential benefit of breaking off a square: It could help your brain adapt to stress.

For this study, researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Science in Iran split rats into a few different groups, some of which were placed under isolation-induced stress (what we humans would call loneliness). Within the stressed groups, rats were fed their standard diet with varying amounts of dark chocolate.

Researchers kept a close eye on the rat's hippocampal CA1 area—a brain region involved in memory formation and retrieval—during the study. Stress generally impairs the brain's ability to learn and process memories, so they were curious how this region would hold up across the different groups.

The results, published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, demonstrate that the stressed rats who received dark chocolate (even just in moderation) exhibited healthier functioning in the hippocampal CA1 compared to those who did not. Researchers note that this diet addition seemed to reverse the negative effects that isolation stress had on this brain region.

What this means for your bedtime snack.

This study was conducted on rats, so we need research on humans to validate its findings. However, it's not the first clue that dark chocolate can support brain health: A review published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2017 also found that the flavanols in cocoa seem to improve general cognition, attention, processing speed, and working memory. Furthermore, they've been shown to help preserve cognitive health changes seen in older age.

The higher the cacao percentage in your chocolate, the more of these brain-healthy flavanols it will have—so pure dark chocolate with minimal sweeteners is preferable to a milk or white chocolate. These are mostly sugar, oil, and milk and won't do much for the mind (except maybe give you a headache).

As far as how much dark chocolate to consume, brain health experts agree that 1 to 2 ounces a day—about a square or two of a typical bar—is plenty. You can't expect one square of chocolate a day to squash all your stress, of course, but consider it one more helpful addition to your calming arsenal.

Other healthy habits to further combat the negative effects of stress include exercising daily, meditating, eating whole foods, and taking a soothing supplement like mbg's calm+, formulated with EU-certified organic hemp oil, ashwagandha, and lavender oil to help balance mood daily.*

New preclinical research in Nutritional Neuroscience provides yet another reason to add dark chocolate to your snacking repertoire. Pair it with other brain-healthy foods like nuts and seeds, berries, and leafy greens for a well-rounded diet for the body and mind.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.

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