A study published in Nature Neuroscience authored by Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center, found that middle-aged participants consuming a drink high in cocoa flavanols—a type of antioxidant found in chocolate—performed better on a memory test than those who consumed less of the drink.
In addition to a 25% improvement on a memory test after drinking the mix for three months, participants between the ages 50 and 69 also showed signs of increased function in the brain’s hippocampus, supporting the theory that cocoa flavanols improve the brain’s blood flow or perhaps stimulate growth of dendrites, the message-receiving branches of neurons.
“An exciting result,” Craig Stark, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine, told the New York Times. “It’s an initial study, and I sort of view this as the opening salvo.”
But there are several catches. Although Dr. Small told the Times he was confident that the work was serious and unbiased, Mars funded part of the research. The sample size included only 37 participants, and researchers found no difference in activity when examining the entorhinal cortex, an area of the hippocampus affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Most glaringly, the 138-milligram-per-day dose of epicatechin (a particularly powerful flavanol administered in the study) is hard to come by. It is equivalent to what you might find in seven average-size chocolate bars or 100 grams of baking chocolate.