Researchers say they have identified the mechanism by which a compound found in cocoa can guard against stroke. “”Cocoa is not like chocolate, which is high in saturated fat and calories. Cocoa can be part of a healthy diet combined with fruits and vegetables,” said Sylvain Dore, associate professor at John Hopkins University.
A flavanol called, “epicatechin”, triggers two protective circuits in the brain, according to a report in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. Noting its protective effect seen more than three hours after a stroke, epicatechin may someday be used to treat strokes in humans while existing stroke treatments typically have a smaller window of activity. Dr. Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School identified epicatechin as the protective ingredient in dark chocolate and cocoa.
“We gave different doses of epicatechin in mice 90 minutes before a stroke and found that it reduced infarct size,” said Dore. “When we gave epicatechin after a stroke, it had a protective effect up to 3.5 hours later, but not after six hours.”
The studies showed that the flavanol activated two well known circuits that shield nerve cells in the brain. Dore warned that, “We have to be very careful.” “There are a lot of steps before going to human trials, potential risks and side effects. We need more work and more funding.”
One study showed a reduced incidence of stroke in people who ate dark chocolate regularly. That study also showed that eating a lot of chocolate is not a healthy dietary move. Not all chocolate is created equal. Dr. Martin Lajous said, “That’s why we did the study in France, where they eat dark chocolate that is rich in flavanols.”
The main effect appears to be the lowering of blood pressure.
The decision to study epicatechin was made because of a low incidence of stroke and cardiovascular disease amongst the Kuna Indians. The Kuna live on islands just off the coast of Panama. Drinking a very bitter cocoa drink is a part of their diet.