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Cacao extends your life expectancy and keeps you sharp

Rats that are given cacao powder in their food every day live 11 percent longer than normal. What's more, their brains work just as well in old age as the brains of young rats. French and Canadian researchers who did experiments with Acticoa cacao powder discovered this. Acticoa is produced by the chocolate manufacturing giant Barry Callebaut, and it contains two to three times more polyphenols than ordinary cacao powder.

The researchers gave one-year-old rats 24 mg cacao powder per kg bodyweight every day. This is the dose that had been shown to be more effective than double the dose in a previously published study, in which cacao extended the life of rats with prostate cancer. [Eur J Cancer Prev. 2008 Feb; 17(1): 54-61.]

The researchers got the rats to do mental tests throughout their 25-month-long lives. One of the tests was the Morris water-maze test. This involves letting the rats swim in an aquarium with a shallow platform. The rats can't see where the platform is. The less time it takes the rats to find the shallow part, the better their brains work.

Each line represents the test results of one of the elderly subjects over the period of the study. Some of the subjects hardly showed any decline at all. Others showed rapid decline: their scores look like falling stars. Sic transit gloria mundi, fellas.

Cacao extends your life expectancy and keeps you sharp

The left-hand graph shows the results when the rats were 12 months old. The right-hand graph shows the results for the rats at 25 months. Rats normally live about two years. The effects of cacao on the rats' mental performance did not become visible until the rats were 17 months.

The researchers measured the concentration of free dopamine in the rats' urine. This went down in the rats in the control group after 18 months of age. The dopamine concentration remained at a constant level in the rats in the cacao group.

The researchers think that the polyphenols in the cacao protect the brain cells that produce dopamine. This might explain why cacao makes older rats just as clever as young ones.

The rats that were given cacao powder lived 11 percent longer than the other rats, as the figure below shows.

Cacao extends your life expectancy and keeps you sharp

The grey line represents the rats in the control group. The black line represents the rats in the cacao group.

The publication suggests that there could be several explanations for why cacao might extend life expectancy. To start with, cacao is good for the cardiovascular system. The polyphenols in cacao protect LDL form oxidation, prevent the formation of blood clots, and sabotage the enzyme protein kinase C in the blood vessel walls. This is the enzyme that breaks down NO. Less protein kinase C means more NO, and more NO means more supple blood vessels. Finally, the polyphenols in cacao inhibit inflammatory processes.

Br J Nutr. 2008 Jul;100(1):94-101.

Animal study: epicatechin from cacao extends life expectancy 18.07.2012