Food Open Thread: Chocolate Is Magic! (Maple Syrup Might Be, Too)

Happy dietary news, for once. The Washington Post reports on “The magical thing eating chocolate does to your brain”:

In the mid 1970s, psychologist Merrill Elias began tracking the cognitive abilities of more than a thousand people in the state of New York. The goal was fairly specific: to observe the relationship between people’s blood pressure and brain performance. And for decades he did just that, eventually expanding the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) to observe other cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes, obesity, and smoking…

“We found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively,” said Elias. “It’s significant—it touches a number of cognitive domains.”

The findings, chronicled in a new study published last month, come largely thanks to the interest of Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, who led the analysis. Others had previously shown that eating chocolate correlated with various positive health outcomes, but few had explored the treat’s effect on the brain and behavior, and even fewer had observed the effect of habitual chocolate consumption. This, Crichton knew, was a unique opportunity…

In the first of two analyses, Crichton, along with Elias and Ala’a Alkerwi, an epidemiologist at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, compared the mean scores on various cognitive tests of participants who reported eating chocolate less than once a week and those who reported eating it at least once a week. They found “significant positive associations” between chocolate intake and cognitive performance, associations which held even after adjusting for various variables that might have skewed the results, including age, education, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary habits.

In scientific terms, eating chocolate was significantly associated with superior “visual-spatial memory and [organization], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination.”…

And Canadians are thrilled to announce another ‘miracle food’, per the Global News:

In preliminary laboratory-based Alzheimer’s disease studies…extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine,” Dr. Navindra Seeram said…

Seeram, along with Toronto’s Dr. Donald Weaver, were among about two dozen scientists who presented findings on natural products and how they could fight neurodegenerative diseases at an annual American Chemical Society meeting this week.

In Weaver’s research, he found that an extract in maple syrup could stop the clumping of proteins in brain cells, specifically tau peptides. A buildup of tau proteins has been tied to brain disease in athletes in the past few years.

In other studies presented at the symposium, doctors found that an extract in pure maple syrup stopped the tangling of other proteins in the brains of rats. The same compound also helped with protecting the brain….

Of course, further studies, yadda yadda yadda. When the red wine drinkers raise your glasses, I shall return your toast with a generous chunk of dark chocolate-dipped maple candy!

Quaint Island Customs

I picked up this coaster at a bar last night and I have no idea what the flip side means (click to embiggen).  Can someone more familiar with the Island code clue me in?

Here’s today’s Netroots schedule for those of you playing along at home.  K-thug is on at 9.

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Because We All Love Our Friends And Family…But Not Always: An Emergency Thanksgiving Anaesthesia Guide/Open Thread

It is a truth universally acknowledged that sometime today, many among us in possession of a full bellies will be in need of powerful psychic analgesics to counter the effects of overdoses of loved, liked, and despised ones.*


I’ve been lucky on this score.  My late, and genuinely much loved Uncle Dan and his wife, the indomitable Aunt Helen, introduced me to a key Thanksgiving tradition designed to meet this need many years ago —  back around my freshman year in college (aka, just before we gave up our clay tablets and styli for some less stable word processors).


That would be the revelation that it was 5 p.m. somewhere no matter how resolutely the clock told us it was 11 a.m. wherever we happened to be.


The drink of choice there was one form or another of daiquiri, and I recall (sort of, in a not-to-testify-under-oath kind of haze)  Thanksgiving  started before noon with the boiled shrimp and the drinks  (strawberry, peach, and lime being the favorites — and what can I say…we were young then) and the day just kind of oozed from there until we reached total turkey and red wine suspended animation.


So, in honor of that great man and in support of a practice that has served many of us, (I’d guess), here are some of the drugs of choice being considered around this household right now.

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1. My dad has 69% blockage in his carotid artery and needs surgery. He had a stroke this weekend. He’s fine for the most part – no permanent damage that I know of. I talked to him tonight, and he’s very tired, but only because he had to wait all weekend in the ER – just like I have had to do in the U.S. – for all you people who think shit is better in you country.

2. Had a wonderful weekend at a wedding in Savannah, GA. I swear, I think my friend spent 100K on her wedding (probably less than that but it seemed like it – every bar was open.)

3. When you are an expensive hotel hosting an upscale Jewish wedding, don’t play Christmas carols in the lobby during cocktail hour.

4. Savannah, Georgia is an awesome vacation. Halef and I spent a good amount of money going there for the wedding, but it was worth it for the vacation. Just visiting all the town squares (originaly 24, but now 21) was nice. There are statues in every one. Amaizng to see the history.

5. Want to go to Fredericton, NB to see my parents for Christmas. $1000+. It was better when Delta flew there direct. It would have been about $400. I can’t blame them for cutting the route – but why before I needed it??

6. How was your Thanksgiving? I went to my cousin’s place. Normally, I hate deep-fried turkey. He made it marinated with cajun spice and it was awesome. Best TG dinner ever. Yeah, it’s late to post that, but whatever.

7. Obama’s National Security Team. Pretty good, IMO. What did you expect from Obama? Did you think he’d take a kindegarten teacher and hire her as Education Secretary? A corporal at a local police department and make her Secretary of Homeland Security? A bank teller and make him Treasury Secretary? Some lawyer who advertises during Judge Judy and make her AG? How about Jackie Chan as SecDef?? Would that have been change you could believe in??

8. Resveritrol. Had lots of that this weekend at the wedding. I am now 27 – not 39.

While I Was Sleeping

Somehow, while dozing off the effects of my Thanksgiving raclette, I missed the most important news yet regarding this blog’s favorite chemical.

Researchers believe they have identified a fundamental cause of aging, according to a study published this week in the journal Cell. The mechanism was previously found in fungus and has now been discovered in mice. It’s likely that the same process applies to humans, said the authors of the research, from Harvard.
The study found that DNA damage, which accrues as we age, decreases a cell’s ability to regulate which genes are turned on and off in particular settings. Though DNA damage speeds up aging, the actual cause is not the DNA damage but the lack of gene regulation. However, this lack of gene regulation, called epigenetics, may be reversible.

For a long time most experts assumed that a sort of unbreakable yin-yang relationship links aging and cancer. Researchers looking for a way to make cells live longer constantly ran into the problem that cancer happens when cells live too long. The perception was reinforced when attempts to prolong life by up-regulating a protein called telomerase, which protects cells from dying after they go through a given number of division cycles, repeatedly ran into cancer problems.

Via resveratrol, research into the sirtuin proteins shattered that misperception. They key, as described in the article, is that aging has less to do with cell death than it does with gene regulation. If we fix gene regulation, or reduce the rate that it slides into dysfunction, then at the cellular level we fight aging. It In fact the new research does better than that: cancer is also a disease of gene dysregulation. It turns out that the famous trade-off is one hundred eighty degrees wrong: if you upregulate DNA quality control then you fight aging and cancer at the same time. As it turns out, the list of other stuff that also starts to work better includes infectious diseases (i.e., we get less of them), mental productivity and cardiovascular fitness.

In fact researchers knew about the effect for decades. However, earlier studies accomplished longevity by cutting a rat’s dietary calories to a point that almost no human could bear. The break came when a team at Harvard guessed that the starvation benefit hinged on a DNA silencing protein called SirT1. When they tried a massive screen for SirT1-activating chemicals the #1 hit was resveratrol, a compound previously known only as a phenolic in red wine. Resveratrol made yeast live longer, it made worms live longer and it had the same effect on flies. Mice and rats followed. Then came a research boom that may never slow down.

It may seem silly that our bodies already have the machinery to live into a healthy old age but prioritize something else. Why do we essentially choose not to live as long as we could? The key insight is that resveratrol, like the starvation diet that it mimics, strongly inhibits the sex drive and reduces the lifetime reproductive output. Nature wants us to get busy, fast, which means that if we want our bodies to prioritize quality control over making whoopee we need to trick it into thinking that we are on the brink of death (dead animals don’t make babies, so the body activates survival mode). We can do that by actually almost starving to death, but it is nice to know that medical science could soon offer a plan B.