I've written before about the benefits of cocoa for cardiovascular disease, specifically for managing cholesterol. Past research has identified other heart-related benefits from chocolate: reducing high blood pressure, relaxing arteries, decreasing vascular inflammation. The commonalities in all the research include a focus on flavonols (chemical constituents of a similar class to resveratrol of red wine fame) present in cocoa powder alone (no cocoa butter).
The conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science saw a special presentation on further study around cocoa's health benefits. Ian McDonald, of Nottingham, England, described how blood flow to the brain is improved for 2-3 hours after consumption of cocoa powder, as measured by activity on an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain scan of healthy volunteers performing complex tasks. Increased blood flow improves performace, and this new data generated some excitement around possible treatments for dementia and those with impaired blood flow to the brain.
Another interesting presentation, also published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences, provides a comparison between local populations in Panama that consume high amounts of cocoa and how this consumption seems to dramatically reduce risk of hypertension, diabetes, cancer and infectious disease. After leaving their traditional cultures, the Kuna began to display many of the imbalances listed above. Now, this may have a lot to do with other dietary alterations, living in a city, etc... Nevertheless, as the authors point out, their consumption of cocoa went from multiple cups daily to virtually none - suggesting that cocoa may have a serious protective effect.
These findings lend even more weight to using chocolate as a powerful and delicious herbal remedy. Again, I suggest Green and Black's organic cocoa powder, 2-3 TBS daily (or more) and brewed with hot water, a teaspoon of honey, and a pinch of cayenne. YUM!