July 2017Launch Interactive Issue
A Natural Alternative to Coffee
Cocoa-Spearmint Drink Boosts Mental FocusA recent poll found that 26% of Americans are addicted to coffee. For those seeking a healthy alternative, a cup of hot spearmint-cocoa, rich in bioactive compounds, has been shown to clear brain fog and stimulate brain blood flow. Controlled studies show that adults drinking this spearmint-cocoa beverage improve their concentration, working memory and mental clarity.
By John Ramirez
COFFEE HAS BENEFICIAL EFFECTS
Cognitive Benefits of Spearmint
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Spearmint and Cocoa for Brain Performance
- That afternoon low point in mental sharpness, focus, and attention is something most of us have learned to live with.
- Some reach for another cup of coffee, but at this time of day that extra cup could cost them valuable sleep.
- Human studies have demonstrated that a group of phenolic compounds from spearmint can enhance performance on tests of working memory, the critical factor in sustaining attention and focus during problem solving.
- Cocoa powder was recently shown to significantly improve the match between brain cell activity and brain blood flow, an important requirement for crisp mental function that also correlates with resistance to developing dementia.
- Spearmint extracts have now been added to a high-quality cocoa powder to provide a boost for attention and mental focus, capitalizing on the benefits of each natural compound.
- There is no longer any reason to tolerate morning grogginess or the “four o’clock fade.” A cup of spearmint hot chocolate may be just the right prescription for sustained brain performance throughout the day.
Controlled Clinical Trial of Spearmint ExtractA larger, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study followed after the first was published, which further demonstrated the brain benefits of this spearmint extract. In this study, 90 subjects, average age 59—with known age-associated memory impairment but not dementia—were enrolled.5 One of the study’s target outcomes was the effect of the extract on subjects’ working memory. This is important because good “working memory” enables multiple memories/sensory inputs to be integrated to direct decisions and reactions. Subjects received the spearmint extract daily with breakfast for 90 days at one of two doses, 900 mg or 600 mg, or placebo. The extract was standardized to contain 14.5% rosmarinic acid, one of spearmint’s important components. At day zero, and on days 45 and 90, subjects underwent a battery of computerized tests of cognitive performance. The study results found that, by day 90, subjects taking the 900–mg supplement dose had a significant 3-timeimprovement in the quality of their working memory compared with placebo recipients. This indicates alert brain function. The lower-dose (600 mg) group showed a non-significant improvement over baseline. Another cognitive test measured spatial working memory (the ability to know where items are arranged in space, and how to use this information). People on the 900 mg/day supplement dose demonstrated a nearly-3–times improvement compared to the placebo. Of additional interest, the higher-dose (900 mg) group also showed significant improvements in their sleep patterns, with increased ease in getting to sleep, and better alertness and behavior following awakening. Together these clinical trials provide compelling support for this novel spearmint extract on helping individuals stay focused and on-task by boosting working memory capacity—under both acute and chronic circumstances.
WHAT IS WORKING MEMORY?
Cocoa Improves Brain Focus and Blood FlowCocoa (without sugar) is a beverage with a reputation for producing comfort and relaxation. A recent clinical study has demonstrated the benefits of cocoa powder on brain focus in humans. In addition, scientists evaluated a microvascular phenomenon called neurovascular coupling. This beneficial effect occurs when tiny blood vessels dilate (open-up) to deliver more blood to brain regions where increased cellular activity is required.6 Sixty adults, average age 73, participated in a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. All subjects were hypertensive or had well-controlled type II diabetes. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive a cocoa beverage that was either rich in flavonols or deficient in flavonols, consuming two cups of the assigned drink daily for 30 days. All subjects had measurements of their neurovascular coupling and cognitive function at baseline and on days one and 30 after beginning the cocoa consumption. What this study demonstrated was that, at 24 hours, subjects with impaired baseline neurovascular couplinghad a 10.6% improvement in neurovascular coupling, and, by 30 days, these subjects’ performance on a test requiring attention significantly improved.6 The baseline time to complete this test was 167 seconds (more than 2.75 minutes), while after 30 days of supplementation that time was just 116 seconds (less than two minutes), a 51-second gain. Clearly, the cocoa beverage was speeding up brain function and alertness. This study’s important contribution is that it showed how cocoa supplementation can boost brain blood flow in response to need (defined as neurovascular coupling), that directly affects our ability to focus and pay attention, even over the short term. The study also found, somewhat surprisingly, that the flavonol-rich and the flavonol-poor cocoa drinks produced the same effects, showing that something other than flavonols was responsible for the observed improvements.6 Another study enrolled 20 young adults (average age 33) who were randomly assigned to receive 11.6 gramsof cocoa powder, a mix of caffeine and theobromine (components of cocoa), or a placebo.7 This study focused on the immediate, short-term cognitive effects of cocoa consumption, with cognitive function tests administered before treatment, and one and two hours after treatment. The study showed that, compared to placebo, cocoa powder significantly shortened reaction time and boosted alertness in a test that required focus, attention, and concentration.7 Essentially, the results suggest that the small amount of naturally occurring caffeine + bioactives of cocoa called theobromine are responsible for cocoa powder’s impact on alertness and mood. The study tested various aspects of enhanced brain functioning such as reaction time, rapid visual information processing and energetic arousal and found that all were improved with the ingestion of the cocoa powder and its components. Together, these studies show that cocoa produces near-immediate improvements in the cognitive functions when we need to pay attention, to focus, and to concentrate. These are all measures of improved working memory.
UNIQUE PROPERTIES OF SPEARMINT EXTRACT K110-42
Spearmint and Cocoa Effects on BrainWhile many details are still under investigation, it is clear that natural compounds found in spearmint extractand in cocoa powder exert potent activity, not only on brain cells, but also on the vascular structures that support and nourish them. Phenolics present in spearmint inhibit the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, resulting in higher concentrations of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for memory and cognitive function.8-10 In a mouse study, a spearmint phenolic, rosmarinic acid, was shown to provide continued neuroprotectionfor key memory centers of the brain (e.g., hippocampus and cortex), against the cellular damage caused by oxidative stress.11 Even more exciting, rosmarinic acid and the other phenolics present in spearmint induce the expression of essential growth factors that promote formation of new brain cells.12 In particular, rosmarinic acid was shown to significantly enhance new cell growth in cultures of cells from the working memory center of the brain, the hippocampus.12 Cocoa also contains polyphenols that have been shown to improve performance on tests of cognition in animal models.13 Cocoa has the ability to improve neurovascular coupling, the matching of blood flow to the areas of the brain being called on to perform cognitive tasks.6
WHY IS NEUROVASCULAR COUPLING IMPORTANT IN THE BRAIN?
SummaryRecent human studies make a compelling case for taking a powdered drink mix of spearmint extract and cocoa powder. The combination seems ideal for use as an immediate pick-me-up beverage for those times when we could use better focus, attention, and concentration. These plant-sourced ingredients have demonstrated brain-activating effects that provide cognitive benefits throughout the day. For those who seek an alternative to coffee, or want to cut back their caffeine consumption, enjoying a cup of hot spearmint-cocoa may provide clearer thinking, better focus, and greater mental clarity. If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/184388/americans-coffee-consumption-steady-few-cut-back.aspx. Accessed April 5, 2017.
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