Here’s wonderful news from you chocaholics! Did you know that places where chocolate consumption is highest, have the most Nobel Prize recipients? It’s true, at least according to a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Of course, that could be a coincidence. But is it possible that intelligence or other measures of high brain function are actually improved by the consumption of chocolate? A new review published in the May 2017 edition of Frontiers in Nutrition analyzed the evidence to date that ‘flavanols’ (found in dark chocolate and cocoa) may benefit human brain function. Flavanols are a plant-based substance that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Here’s a sample of the findings:

• Short-term consumption may be helpful. For example, a 2011 study of young adults found that two hours after consuming dark chocolate memory and reaction time were better than among those consuming white chocolate.

• Long-term consumption may be helpful. One 2014 study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those taking a cocoa supplement with high flavanol content for three months, had better performance on tests of memory than those assigned to take a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.

• Several studies demonstrated evidence of improved blood flow, oxygen levels, or nerve function’s

Ultimately, the authors suggest that while these findings are encouraging and… since most studies so far have been small and many were unable to eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect, we perhaps shouldn’t jump to conclusions. And flavanols? Dark chocolate and cocoa are not the only foods that contain flavanols. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in flavanols are also found in foods – including apples, red grapes, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, beans, kale, and onions. But…. not all chocolate is the same. For example white milk chocolate has much lower levels. In addition, many types of chocolate are high in sugar, fats, and calories.

So sadly, it’s unlikely that doctors will recommend a Mars bar a day. Many people, especially those living in coastal retirement villages, are more than willing to accept any suggestion that chocolate is healthy. But, it’ll take more than the evidence we have now to convince me that chocolate or flavanols can truly preserve or improve brain function. And it’s possible that too much could cause more harm than good. And about that connection between Nobel Prize winners and countries with the highest chocolate consumption? I can’t prove it, but I doubt you’ll increase your chances of winning a Nobel Prize by upping your chocolate intake.

Courtesy of Robert H. Shimerling MD – Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Author: Henry Spencer