Chocolate, Green Tea and Neurologic Disorders

A new study in the Journal of Neurovirology found that epicatechins can protect against the neurological complications of HIV. Epicatechins are natural anti-oxidants. They are found primarily in unfermented tea and dark chocolate.

HIV caused neurological damage is a challenge for doctors to treat. HAART is unable to stop HIV replication inside the brain, leaving the virus free to cause a number of cognitive problems, including AIDS dementia complex. Finding a way to stop this damage has been a major focus for neurological researchers.

Finally, researchers are starting to find some ways to prevent this damage, rather than treating the symptoms. Epicatechin was found to protect brain cells against some types of damage caused by HIV. Several related anti-oxidants also offered protection, but epicatechins were the most effective.

Hopefully doctors will find a way to synthesize epicatechins as a medical treatment. In the meantime you can get some epicatechins in your diet immediately. Just start drinking tea and eating chocolate.

Cocoa beans and tea leaves have lots of epicatechin in them. Epicatechin is a sturdy molecule, that survives being boiled, mashed, or left on the shelf for a year. So by the time cocoa beans and tea leaves turn into chocolate and tea, they often have plenty of epicatechin left for you. In fact, dark chocolate has over 50 mg of epicatechin in every gram of chocolate.

The amount of epicatechin in chocolate is fairly straightforward. The more cocoa nibs used to make the chocolate, the more epicatechin. So dark chocolate has more epicatechin than milk chocolate, and the higher the percentage of dark chocolate the more epicatechins.

Tea and epicatechin is a bit more complicated. For simplicities sake, we’ll stick with the basics. Every type of tea is processed a little bit differently, and how it is processed determines how much epicatechin is in it. To make black tea and oolong, the tea leaves are fermented. This fermenting process destroys most of the epicatechin in the tea. Green teas and white teas are not fermented, just dried or steamed. They retain most, if not all, of their epicatechin.

Unfortunately, right now doctors don’t know how much epicatechin is needed to protect against neurological damage, so it is impossible to say how much tea or chocolate you need to see a benefit. Since tea and chocolate can illustrate the old adage about too much of a good thing (tea is a diuretic and, well, chocolate has sugar) a couple of cups of green tea a day and some dark chocolate now and again is probably a good start.

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