Saturday, January 14, 2012

Benefits of Chocolate for Respiration and Brain

If you're a chocoholic, you may be able to justify your addiction. The cocoa in chocolate contains substances that affect bodily functions such as blood pressure, according to Involuntary responses such as blood pressure regulation, heart rate and breathing are under the control of the autonomic nervous system. The less processed the chocolate, the higher its cocoa content and the more potential health benefits it has, when consumed in moderation. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate.

Heart Effects

The autonomic nervous system controls the regulation of your heartbeat and the resting tone in your blood vessels, which controls blood pressure. Substances called "flavonoids" in chocolate can affect your heartbeat as well as your blood pressure. Flavonoid ingestion activates nitric oxide release, which relaxes smooth muscle cells and causes blood vessels to dilate. Dilating blood vessels lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Brain Effects

Cocoa high in flavonoids can also selectively dilate blood vessels to your brain, increasing blood flow to the brain for up to three hours, according to a Swiss report published in the March 2009 issue of "Circulation." Increased blood flow in the elderly through the middle cerebral artery may decrease the risk of dementia and stroke, the researchers from University Hospital in Zurich suggest. Cocoa may also activate centers in the brain associated with drug addiction as well as pleasure and relaxation centers, according to nutritional scientist Kristin Morris of Elan Biopharmaceuticals.

Respiratory Effects

Cocoa contains theobromine, a stimulant similar to but much weaker than caffeine, as well as a small amount of caffeine. Theobromine can have sympathetic effects on the lungs, affecting the vagus nerve which runs from the brain to the lungs. Theobromine in cocoa can, in large doses, relax the bronchial muscles, making it easier to breathe if you have asthma or other restrictive airway disease. Theobromine in large quantities may also act as a cough suppressant.


Chocolate high in cocoa may have positive effects on the autonomic nervous system for your heart and other organs. suggests that just one square of chocolate containing at least 60 percent cocoa may have health benefits; dark chocolate contains between 50 and 80 percent cocoa, while milk chocolate is just 15 to 25 percent cocoa. Chemicals such as theobromine, caffeine and phenylethylamine found in cocoa can trigger migraines in around 30 percent of migraine sufferers, according to Acu-Cell.

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