Could cocoa really be the brain drug of the future by improving cognitive function in the elderly?
Hope springs eternal for studies trying to find that chocolate is good for you! Researchers at the University of L’Aquila in Italy with scientists from Mars Inc. (that’s right, the candy company) conducted a study among elderly people with mild cognitive impairment to see if consuming specially prepared cocoa drinks would improve their cognitive function.
You can read about the study here: Is Cocoa the Brain Drug of the Future?: Scientific American. It was published last August in the journal Hypertension by the American Heart Association.
In the study, 90 adults with mild cognitive impairment drank a cocoa beverage with either low, moderate or high levels of flavanols daily for 8 weeks. Those who imbibed moderate or high levels of flavanols showed improvements in verbal fluency, visual searching and attention. The high consumption group also showed decreased insulin resistance and blood pressure.
So can we eat lots of chocolate now, with this latest headline proclaiming a health benefit we really, really want to believe, validating a vice?
Well, no, at least not until that special cocoa beverage is available. You would have to eat 10-20 bars of 1-1.5 oz chocolate bars daily to achieve the same consumption of flavanols that the research subjects consumed, according to the post in Scientific American. Besides, the added sugars and fats would likely offset or negate any gains in insulin resistance from the flavanols.
Those flavanols are also found in tea and apples. But tea or apples in the headline wouldn’t get as many web hits, right? Besides, the study wasn’t really about chocolate, but rather a compound found in chocolate.
For more health writing follies about the health benefits of chocolate, check out this abstract of an ‘Occasional Note’, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last October: Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function and Nobel Laureates by Franz H Messerli, MD. The full article is behind a pay wall, but you can read all about it in this Reuters post, Eat chocolate, win the Nobel Prize?, to see how the author was making a spectacular example of how the media often draws faulty conclusions on observational studies.
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