Tests showed that a specific type of cocoa stops clumps of proteins from building up in the brain and damaging nerve cells – causing the disease to progress.
Lavado cocoa is full of polyphenols, antioxidants which are also found in fruit and vegetables, with past studies suggesting that they prevent degenerative brain diseases.
The team also tested the effects of extracts of Dutched and Natural cocoa, but Lavado, which has the highest levels of polyphenols, was found to be most effective at combatting the build up of harmful proteins.
The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The study by scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York looked at synapses – the gaps between nerve cells.
Because loss of synaptic function may have a greater role in memory loss than the loss of nerve cells, rescue of synaptic function may serve as a more reliable target for an effective Alzheimer’s disease drug, said study leader professor Giulio Maria Pasinetti.
Within healthy nerve pathways, each nerve cell sends an electric pulse down which releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that float across the gap and pass on messages.
However, in brains with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, groups of harmful proteins attach to each other and can fill in the gaps between nerve cells, disrupting memory circuits and other normal brain functions.
Dr Pasinetti, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, suggested Lavado could eventually be made into a dietary supplement to prevent the disease.
She said: ‘We believe our results have broad implications for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.’
Each cocoa type was evaluated for its ability to reduce the formation of harmful proteins.
Lavado extract, which has the highest polyphenol content and anti-inflammatory activity among the three, was also the most effective in combatting the formation of sticky clumps in the brain and and reversing nerve cell damage.
He said turning cocoa-based Lavado into a dietary supplement may provide a safe, inexpensive and easily accessible means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, even in its earliest stages.