Trial Investigating Link Between Dark Chocolate and Parkinson’s Symptoms

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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The battle against Parkinson’s disease may be getting sweeter, with a new study underway seeking to understand if concentrated chocolate supplements could help alleviate the disease’s symptoms. A team of researchers from Dresden University of Technology, Germany, are busy conducting tests on 30 participants to further understand the benefits of phenylethylamine, a compound found in cocoa that has been linked to dopamine upregulation.

Parkinson’s disease causes a gradual loss of nerve cells and drop in levels of dopamine, eventually provoking involuntary tremors that can severely interfere with quality of life. Chocolate supplements contain as much as 85% cocoa, and the Dresden researchers hope to prove it to have non-pharmaceutical benefits for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

In the brain the compound is thought to act more as a neuromodulator than a neurotransmitter in that it binds with presynaptic vesicles and occupies the spaces that normally takes up dopamine. This causes a rise in free-circulating dopamine, which then boosts dopaminergic transmission.

In the study participants will be given 50 grams of either white chocolate, which has zero cocoa, or dark chocolate. The test will take place twice a day for one week, with the second week of the test involving other types of chocolate. This short experiment should help shed more light on the symptomatic differences between the two tests.

This experiment draws from a study published in April 2013, titled, “Contribution of β-phenethylamine, a component of chocolate and wine, to dopaminergic neurodegeneration: implications for the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease” from a team of researchers at Assam University in India, that in contrast, suggests this cocoa ingredient may actually be helping the onset of Parkinson’s disease. “As consumption of phenylethylamine enriched food items has become an addiction in modern life, our proposed mechanism is of enormous significance and impact,” the authors wrote.

Findings on the health benefits of chocolate intake for the sake of increasing phenylethylamine levels have been debatable at best, however, this compound undergoes a significant amount of degradation in the process of digestion, preventing most of it from reaching supposed therapeutic levels in the brain.