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Will Chocolate Make You Smarter?

dark chocolate, cognitive function, Nobel Prize

Researchers from the Kings College London and the Wellcome Trust have made a very interesting correlation between chocolate intake and winning the Nobel Prize. Publishing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team finds that countries with the highest per capital chocolate consumption also have the highest number of persons winning this prestigious honor.

Author, Dr. Franz Messerli, compiled a list of countries ranked by Nobel laureates per capita through last year (2011). He then compared the data with each country’s annual chocolate consumption per 10 million people, which was obtained from several chocolate trade associations. Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark (in that order) had a “surprisingly powerful” correlation between the amount of chocolate they consumed and the number of Nobel Prize winners.

The country of Sweden, in particular, really stood out. Dr. Messerli says that Swedes consume about 14 pounds of chocolate per person per year and the country has produced more than double the expected amount of Nobel laureates (32).

One theory: Swiss chocolate has a much higher cocoa content than most US chocolates, and therefore contain higher levels of dietary flavonoids which have been shown to enhance cognitive function. Some studies have found that regular intake of flavonoids have been linked with the reduction in risk of dementia. Flavanols, a subclass of flavonoids, are also rich in cocoa. These have been shown to slow down cognitive performance deficits that occur with aging.

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As for the United States, we eat a lot of chocolate, but mostly milk chocolate which contains more milk, cream and sugar than cocoa. We fall somewhere in the middle of the pack of 22 countries, along with the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Belgium, and Germany. China, Japan, and Brazil ranked near the bottom.

Of course, correlation doesn’t prove cause. The findings can only lead to a number of hypotheses, including studying such factors as economy and education system as well as chocolate consumption.

"Chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function, which is a sine qua non for winning the Nobel Prize, and it closely correlates with the number of Nobel laureates in each country. It remains to be determined whether the consumption of chocolate is the underlying mechanism for the observed association with improved cognitive function," says Dr. Messerli.

If you want to improve cognitive function, follow the advice of American physicist Eric Cornell who won the Nobel Prize in 2001 who joked that dark chocolate was indeed the secret to his success.

“Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid. Now dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s one thing if you want like a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize, O.K., but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate.”

Journal reference:
Messerli FH, "Chocolate consumption, cognitive function, and nobel laureates" N Engl J Med 2012; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMon1211064