You'd be justified in having some skepticism about a study citing the benefits of chocolate that is sponsored by Hershey Company. But, the science appears sound in a new Northern Arizona University study linking chocolate with improved attention span.
Researchers studied six combinations of chocolate and found a (pun alert) sweet spot in chocolate with 60% cacao content combined with L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. The elixir lowers blood pressure and benefits the cardio system in addition to providing just the right amount of stimulant that helps the subject pay better attention without bouncing off the walls.
Chocolate has long been heralded for its role as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and lowering blood pressure, but it also contains powerful stimulants. On balance, it is considered a stimulant rather than a sedative.
But here's where the things got interesting: researchers found that the L-theanine counteracted the short-term hypertensive effects of chocolate. L-theanine plays a role in generating alpha waves in the brain-these are the waves associated with the peaceful state of wakeful relaxation.
The study, which was published in the journal NeuroRegulation, involved 122 participants between the ages of 18 and 25. Using electroencephalography (EEG) technology, researchers measured the brain activity of these lucky participants while they performed a cognitive task with and without having ingested chocolate, while the data was gathered to consider the acute effects of chocolate on attentional characteristics of the brain.
The researchers examined the EEG levels and blood pressure effects from consuming a 60% cacao confection as compared with five control conditions, and the results showed that participants who consumed the 60 percent cacao chocolate tested as cognitively more alert and attentive.
Lead researcher Larry Stevens, professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University, speculated that perhaps millions of people hypertension could eat a bar of this heart-healthy chocolate as an afternoon snack to regulate their blood pressure and help them to be more alert and attentive.
Said Stevens: "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. Chocolate is indeed a stimulant and it increases brain characteristics of attention."
Before you run to the vending machine, take note: this particular confection has yet to hit the mass market. But you can bet that after this study, product gurus at Hershey and other chocolatiers will be running to the lab. Hmmm...maybe they need taste-testers.
Follow Will Hector on Twitter: @WriterWithHeart
(Sources: Northern Arizona University; Science Daily)