We should all wish to nourish our brain health. From harnessing sharp thinking to avoiding neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, there’s ample reason to begin caring for our brains. Enter cacao!
The cacao benefits for brain health are immense. Cacao is a true nootropic, to say the least. Thus we’ve set out to address some special qualities making cacao an especially powerful choice for optimizing brain function.
But first, a bit of history.
History of Cacao
Ancient peoples of today’s Mexico referred to cacao as a “food of the gods.” Many know that cacao is the primary ingredient found in chocolate. You’ll soon learn why raw cacao is much different from your standard Hershey’s bar.
Cacao beans grow from the theobroma cacao tree. In the Americas, these grow from central Mexico down through northern Costa Rica.
Records show that pre-Olmec peoples in Honduras were buzzing on cacao over 3000 years ago. Then, in 2018, researchers analyzed the genomes of cultivated cacao and deduced that all cacao comes from a cultivation event that took place around 3600 years ago.
So why did civilizations come to call cacao a “food of the gods”?
The answer to this is rooted in the obvious brain-boosting power of cacao. We say obvious because once consumed, cacao can send a person on a whirlwind of joy, clarity, positivity, and productivity. These positive attributes have even led modern-day humans (us) to consume cacao in a ceremonial setting. These types of ceremonies contain plenty of laughter, heart-opening, and the occasional tear-shedding session.
Yes, yes—you’ve been waiting! Now that we’ve learned some basics and history, we’ll go ahead and examine cacao benefits specific to brain function.
Cacao Benefits for Brain Health
As previously mentioned, cacao is a superfood used in mass-produced chocolate bars. Those are candy. They are stuffed with low-quality dairy, sugar, and other junk. We advise against eating such chocolate.
Because various companies produce low-quality candy “foods” containing cacao, chocolate often gets a bad rap. Many people don’t realize that a dark chocolate bar with minimal amounts of sugar and additives is quite healthy, particularly for the brain.
Cacao Contains Magnesium
It’s no secret that the world is chronically deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that’s becoming increasingly difficult to come by. Plants obtain their magnesium from the ground. Due to poor agricultural practices, magnesium levels in the soil are decreasing at an alarming rate.
Cacao is a trusty source of magnesium for a world in desperate need of it. The brain requires magnesium for various functions, revealing just how much of boon cacao is for brain health.
A single serving of cacao contains up to 16% of our recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium. Research shows that magnesium prevents our nerve cells from being damaged. Magnesium sits inside N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, protecting them from being triggered unnecessarily. NMDA receptors are known to aid memory and learning. Protecting them is essential.
Cacao Contains Flavanols
Flavanols are antioxidants that are excellent for brain health.
In 2013, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology studied the effects of flavanols on brain health. “These substances display several beneficial actions on the brain. They enter the brain and induce widespread stimulation of brain perfusion. They also provoke angiogenesis, neurogenesis, and changes in neuron morphology, mainly in regions involved in learning and memory.”
The researchers go on to describe a very common phenomenon: how we tend to consume more chocolate while under emotional stress. Cacao undoubtedly has a mood-enhancing power over its consumers. This is a fact we’re going to get into next.
Cacao Contains Caffeine and Theobromine
Many who study cacao benefits for brain health learn of this bean’s ample supply of caffeine. Most are familiar with the effects of caffeine via tea and coffee, so we’ll leave that for the reader’s independent research.
Theobromine is a lesser-known compound closely related to caffeine. Many people, as with caffeine, get seriously addicted to theobromine. But what’s the harm?
It’s probably doing consumers more good than harm.
Theobromine is a powerful “feel good” chemical that works on the nervous system to promote euphoria, energy, clarity, and productivity. What’s more, very recent studies have identified theobromine as a catalyst for improved working memory in rats. The effects of theobromine are likely to translate over to human use.
These findings show similar benefits of theobromine to the like of caffeine. Could coupling the two together, as nature so wisely does in cacao, compound this benefit? This is the power of dark chocolate.
Cacao Increases Blood Flow to the Brain
It’s no secret that cacao boasts a plethora of polyphenols, a type of flavanol.
The polyphenols in cacao, according to research, prove promising for “blood-flow improvement and angiogenesis in the brain and sensory systems. Protective effects of long-term flavanol consumption on neurocognition and behavior, including age- and disease-related cognitive decline, were shown in animal models of normal aging, dementia, and stroke.”
The polyphenols cross the blood-brain barrier, settling in areas key to learning and memory such as the hippocampus. Neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells, occurs foremost in the brain’s hippocampus region.
Final Thoughts on Cacao Benefits for Brain Health
Now you’re convinced of the cacao benefits for brain health! So how should you consume it?
There are a few effective ways.
Buying cacao in its raw, un-defatted form is arguably the best way to consume cacao. Everything is there!: the fats, the beneficial compounds listed above, the theobromine… Meanwhile, all the unnecessary junk added sugars, and low-quality dairy is left out.
The powdered form is also ideal. Our Wild Cocoa Powder is a popular choice for smoothies, lattes, and healthy hot chocolate drinks existing in various combinations.
Finally, you could always get a nice, high-quality bar of dark chocolate from the grocery store. Look for the “organic” label. We suggest bars that are 80% or higher in their cacao content. The more cacao (and the less sugar) the better!
Here’s to years of brain health thanks to cacao!