Regular chocolate intake linked to enhanced cognition in cohort study

By Douglas Yu contact

- Last updated on GMT

Higher scores on memory tests and other cognitive measures for those consuming milk or dark chocolate once a week, finds study. Photo: iStock - maxkabakov
Higher scores on memory tests and other cognitive measures for those consuming milk or dark chocolate once a week, finds study. Photo: iStock - maxkabakov

Related tags: Chocolate, Psychology

Habitual chocolate consumption has correlation with better cognitive functioning, according to analyses of 968 people living in New York

A study​ due for publication in the journal Appetite​ by researchers at the University of South Australia, the University of Maine and the Luxembourg Institute of Health (L.I.H.) examined the chocolate eating habits and cognitive performance of participants in the MSLS (Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study​).

The MSLS cohort study assessed the eating habits of 968 people aged 23–98 years between 1975 to 2000, who were initially living in New York.

Senior author of the Appetite study, Georgina Crichton, of the Nutritional Physiology Research Centre at University of South Australia, said those who consumed chocolate at least once a week had significantly higher score on the global composite, visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination.

How the study was conducted

Participants in the MSLS study completed a food frequency questionnaire, where they reported how frequently they consumed a wide range of different foods and beverages, including chocolate, Crichton said. They also undertook extensive neuropsychological tests.

“We then analyzed the data, examining relations between chocolate intake and cognitive performance, taking into account factors such as age, education and other health factors which may impact upon this relationship,”​ she said.

Asked how researchers proved the sample individuals they chose for the study could reflect the general population, Crichton said even though it was a random sample, some of their previous work has demonstrated the sample in the MSLS is quite representative of the US population, in terms of health characteristics.

“The results are fairly generalized across demographics,”​ she said.

Further research needed

The study said those who ate chocolate at least weekly performed significantly better on a range of tasks than those who ate chocolate less frequently.

However, researchers need to gain more specific information regarding the type of chocolate consumed, such as dark chocolate, milk and white, and the actual quantities consumed in order to improve the accuracy of the study, Crichton suggests.

“We were unable to differentiate the type of chocolate in relation to performance due to the food frequency questionnaire used,”​ she said. “More research is needed.”

Limited research on chocolate’s effect on cognition

Crichton added when the survey was complete, national data indicated the majority of chocolate consumed in the US was either milk or dark. Therefore, she said her latest finding was a relatively new discovery, since most of the research to date has only looked at dark chocolate.

“We have included milk chocolate consumers and found a positive result [in terms of how chocolate consumption relates to cognitive function],”​ she said.

However, the impact of chocolate on cognitive function is not yet well understood due to few studies conducted in the area to date, Crichton said.

ConfectioneryNews previously reported on a study published in Physiology & Behavior​ that suggested acute intake of cocoa flavanols improves visual contrast sensitivity and cognitive functions.

Crichton said her study is different in that it looked at people’s self-reported consumption of chocolate, instead of acute effects from chocolate.

Appetite​, Volume 100​, 1 May 2016, Pages 126–132
Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.010
Title: Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study
Authors: Georgina E. Crichton, Merrill F. Elias, Ala’a Alkerwi

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