How do Mars bars and red wine affect your brain?

Sitting down after a day’s work with a glass of red wine and some dark chocolate never felt so good. Not only am I enjoying myself profoundly, but apparently I am also increasing my performance in specific tasks and boosting my general alertness over a short period of time, says a University of Nottingham study. In addition, I’m reducing my chance of heart failure, cancer, strokes, and diabetes! Talk about two birds one stone…

Dark chocolate and red wine, as well as green tea and blueberries, are rich in flavanols which cause increased blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours. How? The cerebral blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood, and therefore oxygen, to reach the brain. The Nottingham study had individuals drink a flavanol-rich cocoa drink and undergo an MRI to see if there was any increased activities in the brain. Ian Macdonald, professor of metabolic physiology, found increased grey matter flow.   

Taking it back a step, what IS a flavanol? It’s an organic molecule composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. A type of flavanol is an epicatechin. Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School claims epicatechin can reduce the risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer, and diabetes. All those are nitric oxide sensitive processes, and flavanols activate the nitric oxide system. He studied the Kuna people in Panama, who drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week, and found that the appearance of these four health problems were majorily reduced. He compared the death certificates from 2000 to 2004 of the Kuna people in San Blas islands to people from mainland Panama. He found 77, 375 deaths in mainland Panama and 558 deaths in San Blas. In mainland Panama, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death, with cancer following suit. Overall, the Kuna people had 10% less a chance of dying from these four major causes.     

Many companies take out flavanol when making their foods and beverages because it leads to a much bitter taste. Mars, on the other hand, keeps it in when creating its Mars bars. 

Before you get carried away and decide on a diet of chocolate and wine there a few problems:

Any benefits from chocolate bars is completely wiped out by the increased risks to health posed by the sugar and fat. 

The beneficial effects of small doses of alcohol are controversial and if they do exist probably require rather more exact dosing than a wine glass!

On the upside the occasional bit of dark chocolate and a glass of wine probably won't do you much harm either!

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