高カカオチョコレートの知られざる効果!【脳の栄養「BDNF」を増やす!】

BDNFとは、Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factorの略称で、日本語では「脳由来神経栄養因子」という訳語が与えられています。わかりやすくいうと、脳の神経の栄養になるタンパク質です。

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BDNF(脳由来神経栄養因子)とは何か?

その働きは、脳の神経を成長させて、その神経を保護するという役目を担っています。

もう少し詳しく述べるならば、

・第一に、新しい神経を作り出すための栄養になり、その新生を促すというもの
・第二に、その神経に発達や増殖を促す
・第三に、神経同士の繋がりを強固にしてセロトニンなどの神経伝達物質を増やす
・第四に、ストレスなどから神経を守る

などの働きがあります。

反対にこれが減ると、アルツハイマー型認知症・うつ病・不安障害・双極性障害・統合失調症・自閉症スペクトラム障害、つまり発達障害など、様々な精神疾患発症の原因になると考えられています。

脳の中でも、前頭前野は認知・思考に、海馬は情動や記憶という、共に高次な機能に密接に関わっています。

BDNFの減少は、脳の神経に栄養が行き渡らなくなるので、脳神経の成長や発達を阻害し、ネットワークの連携不良を来します。

その結果、記憶障害・情動障害・気分障害を引き起こしてしまうと考えられるので、今日ではBDNFの減少が、様々な精神疾患の発生リスクになっていると認識されているのです。

そのため、応用的に向精神薬には、脳のBDNF増加を促す成分が用いられるようになって来ているのです。

なお余談ながら、こうした論理が想定されることからも、うつ病は甘えであるという根強い世間の誤解は的外れなものであり、治療には精神論など弊害となるばかりであると言えます。

臨床的観点から見たBDNFについて

BDNFと精神疾患との関係性をみれば、これらの問題が単に気持の持ちようという問題ではなく、脳に発生したある種の異常である、したがって客観的に病気であるということが理解できます。

ところでBDNFは、血液検査によって測定することができます。例えばうつ病患者の場合、その数値は健康な人と較べた場合、明らかに低いという報告があります。

またストレスを強く感じている人も、やはり数値が低下する傾向にあります。この指標が、発展的に研究されれば、血中濃度を測定することで、精神疾患の有無を正確に検出する方法として、確立されることも予想できます。

この検査では、その前駆体と成熟型の2種類を検出できます。精神疾患に関係しているとはいえ、その関わり方は一様ではなく、うつ病では成熟型が減少する、双極性障害では成熟型が増加して前駆体は減少する、という違いがあります。

臨床現場では、うつ病と双極性障害との識別は、非常に重要であるにも関わらず、明確に区別できるばかりとは限りません。

躁状態が明確に現れるようであれば、双極性障害と見分けることができますが、反復性うつ病性障害のように、うつ状態が繰り返し起こるとその中間的な時期を、軽躁状態と認識されることがあるからです。

うつ病と双極性障害とでは、用いられる薬が異なるため、両者は正確に区別される必要があります。その点において、BDNFを検出する検査法が確立すれば、大きなメリットになります。

そしてもうひとつ明言できるのは、BDNFが減少して精神疾患発症のリスクが高まるのであれば、ではこれをどうやって増やせば良いかという議論が、進むことになるはずです。

チョコレートにBDNFを増やす効果がある可能性が

それでは、BDNFを増やすためには、どのようにすれば良いのでしょうか。脳のBDNFが減少すると、神経の発達が阻害されて精神疾患のリスクが高まるのであれば、これを増やせば良いということになるはずです。

しかし現状では、向精神薬の成分としても、BDNFの増加を促すための成分が含まれているという程度に留まり、直接的にこれを増加させる薬というものは存在しません。

しかし私たちの日々の生活の中で、そう心掛けることにより、BDNFを増やす効果があるという習慣は存在します。おおざっぱな表現ながら「精神衛生上良い」「身体に良い」とされる行動は、脳のBDNFを増加させることがわかっています。

それは、規則正しい生活・適度な運動・適度な頭脳活動を取り入れることです。適度な運動は、BDNFを増やすだけではなく、記憶や学習の質を高めます。

また運動は、酸化ストレスを生じさせますが、抗酸化物質によってBDNFが発現しやすくなります。これだけだと、非常に難しい議論に思えますが、実はチョコレートを食べると効果的であるという可能性が示唆されています。

チョコレートには、カカオポリフェノールが高濃度で含まれていて、これによってBDNFを含む血流が脳内に増加して、認知機能が高まるという効果があるからです。

手軽に美味しく食べられるチョコレートに、こうした効果があるのであれば、これを習慣化することで、様々な精神疾患の症状を改善することができそうだと考えられます。

先に述べた通り「精神衛生上良い」「身体に良い」ことが、脳のBDNFを増加させるのであれば、カカオポリフェノール効果と相まって、美味しいと感じることが病気による、あるいは病気の原因となるストレスを遠ざける効果は、確実にあると言えるでしょう。

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