Consuming Dark Chocolate Improves Attention

June 1, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Need a study break? Try a piece of dark chocolate.

Need a study break? Try a piece of dark chocolate.

New research published in NeuroRegulation provides evidence that some forms of high-cacao chocolate can lower blood pressure and improve attention.

Researchers asked 122 subjects to consume 60% cacao chocolate, 60% cacao chocolate with L-theanine, 0% cacao chocolate, water with a high amount of sugar, water with a low amount of sugar, or just plain water.

After an hour, electroencephalographs (EEG) and measures of blood pressure and mood were taken.

The results showed those who consumed the higher-cacao chocolate were more alert and attentive than the control groups.

“A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher-cacao content chocolate bar, and it would increase attention,” said Larry Stevens, PhD, professor at Northern Arizona University, in a press release.

While blood pressure levels increased for a short period of time among those who ate the higher-cacao chocolate, those who also consumed chocolate with L-theanine—an amino acid found in green tea—saw a decrease in blood pressure.

“L-theanine is a really fascinating product that lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful,” Dr. Stevens said in a press release. “We thought that if chocolate acutely elevates blood pressure, and L-theanine lowers blood pressure, then maybe the L-theanine would counteract the short-term hypertensive effects of chocolate.”

Although higher-cacao content chocolate with L-theanine is not currently available, the results of the experiment could be of interest to Hershey, which sponsored the study.

“This study suggests an acute stimulating effect of cacao on the human brain and vasoconstrictive effects on peripheral vasculature, the latter of which appear to be offset by an L-theanine additive,” the researchers concluded.

They said this was the first study using EEG to examine the effects of eating chocolate.