Eating chocolate regularly promotes better brain function, study finds
Good news for chocoholics: A new study has found that eating chocolate regularly appears to improve mental skills including memory, concentration, and problem solving.
The study, published in the journal Appetite, found that people who ate chocolate at least once a week performed better on a range of brain tests than those who consumed less or none at all.
The researchers said that this may be due to flavanols, which are abundant in dark chocolate but less so in milk or white chocolate.
Flavanols are a type of antioxidant, which may prevent or delay some types of cell damage, and are also found in tea, citrus fruit, and wine.
Previous studies have suggested that they can reduce the risk of dementia, fight weight gain and lower the chances of a number of conditions including heart disease and cancer.
The latest study, conducted by the University of South Australia, used data from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), which tracked almost 1,000 people over 30 years and measured a whole range of health indicators.
“Chocolate and cocoa flavanols have been associated with improvements in a range of health complaints dating from ancient times and have established cardiovascular benefits, but less is known about the effects of chocolate on neurocognition and behaviour,” said lead researcher Georgie Crichton of the Sansom Institute for Health at the university.
The scientists used a battery of tests to measure brain performance in people who ate chocolate regularly.
They included tests of verbal memory, scanning and tracking, visual-spatial memory [which allows us to remember our way home, for example] and organization, and abstract reasoning, including the ability to recall a list of words or remember where an object was placed.
The relationship between chocolate and better performance held up even when researchers took into account things like age, sex, education, cholesterol, blood pressure, and alcohol intake, Crichton said.
The scientists say further studies are needed to establish how chocolate appears to boost brainpower, but they speculate that flavonoids, which represent up to 20 percent of the compounds present in cocoa beans, may be at least partly responsible.
In addition to cocoa flavonols, other psychoactive components of chocolate include caffeine and theobromine, both of which have been associated with improving alertness and mental skills, they said.
The amount of cocoa in chocolate ranges from about 7 to 15 percent in milk chocolate to 30-70 percent in dark chocolate.
Previous research has mostly examined the effects of chocolate consumption on brain performance immediately after eating a chocolate bar or drinking cocoa, but this research looked at habitual intake.
Crichton cautioned that chocolate should be consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
“Of course chocolate intake should be considered within an overall healthy eating pattern, with consideration given to total energy intake and an individual’s energy needs,” she said.
An earlier study found that a daily dose of chocolate could help keep dementia and Alzheimer’s at bay.
Researchers found that consuming cocoa every day helped improve mild cognitive impairment – a condition involving memory loss which can progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s – in elderly patients.
The latest study was carried out in partnership with the University of Maine and the Luxembourg Institute of Health.