Because chocolate

To improve a memory, consider chocolate –NYT

Dark chocolate could improve memory by 25%, but you’d have to eat 7 bars a day –PBS

Dietary flavanols reverse age-related memory decline –Columbia University Medical Centre

dark chocolate


The actual study: Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults (Brickman et al., 2014)

High flavanol group: 900 mg cocoa flavanols and 138 mg epicatechin (that’d be a LOT of dark chocolate).

Control: 10 mg cocoa flavanols and 2 mg epicatechin

Study duration: 3 months

Funding: NIH & Mars lol

Cerebral blood volume (CBV) of this particular area of the brain declines with age and is lower in cognitively impaired:

dentate gyrus aging cognitively impaired


…and it responds to dark chocolate (flavanols) (in most people):


dentate gyrus dark chocolate


…and this was associated with improved performance in a cognitive task:


cognitive task


Admittedly, the effect was small and of borderline statistical significance, and it’d be really hard (ie, fattening) to do with whole foods (ie, dark chocolate), but maybe if you’re in it for the long haul, dark chocolate might truly have this effect.  And there’s a plausible mechanism: many studies show that smaller doses improve blood flow; if this carried over to critical brain regions, then very plausible.  I’m hedging my bets on: lower dose, much longer duration.

Effects of dark chocolate and cocoa consumption on endothelial function and arterial stiffness in overweight adults (West et al., 2014)

However, maybe such a high dose of flavanols isn’t even necessary if we just eat dark chocolate instead of flavanol supps: Theobromine enhances absorption of cacao polyphenol in rats (Yamamoto et al., 2014).  This is similar to resveratrol; other compounds in red wine have been shown to increase it’s bioavailability, so maybe you don’t need to drink eleventy billion glasses to get all the benefits seen in the epic rodent studies.


Part 2: Chocolate consumption, cognitive function, and Nobel Laureates (Messerli, 2012)


Nobel Prizes chocolate consumption


^^^nobody really believes this

Scientific activity is a better predictor of Nobel Award chances than dietary habits and economic factors (Doi et al., 2014).  No shit, Sherlocke.

Chocolate habits of Nobel Prize winners (Golomb et al., 2013)

“We surveyed 23 male winners of the Nobel prize in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics. Ten (43%) reported eating chocolate more than twice a week, compared with only 25% of 237 well-educated age- and sex-matched controls. Three proffered that their chocolate consumption had indeed contributed to their Nobel prize, but most disavowed any link. Two attested that they had won the prize in spite of their chocolate habits.


Nobel Laureates on chocolate


Part 3.  While we can be hopeful, I don’t think dark chocolate’s strongest effect is on brain power.

or not…

Chocolate and the brain: neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior (Sokolov et al., 2013)

Cocoa extracts reduce oligomerization of amyloid-beta: implications for cognitive improvement in Alzheimer’s disease (Wang et al., 2014)

Dark chocolate intake buffers stress reactivity in humans (Wirtz et al., 2014) and Effects of dark chocolate consumption on the prothrombotic response to acute psychosocial stress in healthy men (van Kanel et al., 2014).



I don’t particularly care for flavanols, which is why I don’t care if my dark chocolate has been Dutched or not.  That said, they’re not all that bad: Flavan-3-ol fraction from cocoa powder promotes mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle in mice (Watanabe et al., 2014).

Dark chocolate is also good for the microbiome.

Dark chocolate is a very rich source of saturated fatty acids.  We don’t live in a mythical organic GMO-free world; if we did, I might say eat all the PUFAs you want.  However, we live in a toxic environment, consistently exposed to all manner of pollutants, etc.  Saturated fatty acids protect cellular membranes.  They should not be avoided.  And, dark chocolate is delicious.

maybe it’ll make you smarter, too

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  • Young Chipotle

    “Three proffered that their chocolate consumption had indeed contributed to their Nobel prize”
    Academic trolling at it’s finest.

  • TechnoTriticale (subscription site) tests stuff we eat, usually supplements, but also this year chocolate, and updated last week.

    They are reporting nasty levels of cadmium in pretty much random brands (certified organic buys zero assurance of low Cd), and lead in a few brands as well. There is no FDA standard, so maker claims, supported by independent testing, are the only near-term solution.

    They also found zero correlation between high % cacao and high flavanols.

    • This Old Housewife

      Any brands they recommend specifically? I used to be a member of them years ago (back when it was only $12/year to join).

    • interesting! Can you share these data? I’d love to take a look…

      • TechnoTriticale

        re: Can you share these data?

        Not without violating their terms, plus needing to hack their emitted HTML which is otherwise not copyable. Also, my error, the URL is consumerlab (no “s”).

        Unfortunately, most of the high flavanol chocs were also the high Cd chocs, excepting Reservage CocoaWell and CocoaVia. One Ghiradelli and one Lindt bar product scored low in Cd, but also low in flavanols.

        None of the products consumed in this household were tested. That said, we find a subscription to the site to be worth it in terms of avoiding worthless if not dangerous supplements. CL is doing a job we’d like to think the FDA is doing, but isn’t.

        • that’s unfortunate I suppose.

          I prefer 100% cocoa not for the flavanols, but for the macro profile (?sugar & ?SFA).

          • Thomas Hemming Larsen

            May I add cocoa beans and nibs. I eat a lot of those two and 100% chocolate – I almost see it as a source of energy on a ketogenic diet (like nuts).

            What about cocoa butter as an alternative to all the other fats?

          • 1) moar fibre! (i think)

            2) cocoa butter and coconut oil are the two fats which almost completely prevented alcohol-induced liver damage in this post:

          • Thomas Hemming Larsen

            Yeah. I’ve been thinking of how much of cocoa beans and nibs are actually digestible.

            Nice. All the more reason to eat more of it. I also find it tastes better than coconut oil.

  • Tim McGuire

    Nobels cause chocolate!

  • This Old Housewife

    Any way to find out how many Nobel laureates there are that are on some sort of AIP protocol, and can’t eat the chocolate?

    This would be akin to me saying, “I’d be a lot smarter if it wasn’t for my damned arthritis!”

  • Jack Kruse

    FYI” Bill regarding flavonoids in eukaryotes they can never be discussed in equivalence studies because of Aldehyde oxidase (AO). Remember flavonoids also show inhibitory activities directly on AO the family of enzymes which are involved in biotransformation of some exogenous and endogenous chemicals like flavonoids. The liver cytosol of various mammals also exhibits a significant reductase activity toward nitro, sulfoxide, N-oxide and other moieties, catalyzed by aldehyde oxidase. When we read studies like this we should be sure to understand there is considerable variability of aldehyde oxidase activity in liver cytosol of mammals: for example, humans show the highest activity of AO, rats and mice show low activity, and dogs have no detectable activity.
    Since flavonoids are ubiquitous in most human diets they have potential to interact with AO on a regular basis. Using other mammals used to study these effects will lead to very bad data because of poor comparison power of AO. We need human data to get the real data.

    • thanks, Jack. I didn’t know this. There are a couple flavanol studies in humans, but most of it is rodents.

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