This Is Your Brain On Chocolate…

A recent report on groundbreaking research reveals a significant correlation between chocolate consumption and cognitive performance. An expansion of a 40-year study, the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), to observe other cardiovascular risk factors revealed “… regular intake of cocoa flavanols may have a beneficial effect on cognitive function, and possibly protect against normal age-related cognitive decline.” The study included 968 participants aged 23–98 years.

From the report: “Habitual chocolate intake was related to cognitive performance, measured with an extensive battery of neuropsychological tests. More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination.”

Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, who led the analysis explained, these functions translate to every day tasks, “such as remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time.”

Also from the report: “Women ate chocolate more frequently than men. Compared to those who never or rarely ate chocolate, those who ate chocolate on a weekly basis, had higher total and LDL-cholesterol, but lower glucose levels. Hypertension and type 2 diabetes were lower in regular chocolate consumers than in non-consumers. From a dietary perspective, those who ate chocolate also consumed more energy overall, and more daily serves of meat, vegetables and dairy foods, but significantly less alcohol. All cognitive scores were significantly higher in those who consumed chocolate at least once per week, than in those who never/rarely consumed chocolate.”

Researchers attribute these beneficial effects to the role of cocoa flavanols in cognition, which come from the cocoa solids that chocolate is made from and are associated with increased blood flow and antioxidants in the brain. Unsweetened cocoa powder has 88 to 96 percent cocoa solids. Dark chocolate contains 45 to 80 percent cocoa solids, milk chocolate has 5 to 7 percent and white chocolate has no cocoa solids. Although the study did not differentiate between milk, dark and white chocolate consumption, it is assumed most consumption is of the darker persuasion given a much higher consumption preference in the US (only 8% of chocolate consumed in US is white). A previous study measured the effects on cognitive performance and mood from the consumption of methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine combination) found in a 50 g bar of dark chocolate. In chocolate, both ‘milk’ and ‘dark’ chocolate methylxanthine doses improved cognitive function compared with ‘white chocolate’.