They published their findings last month in the journal Appetite, saying people who ate chocolate at least once per week performed better on multiple cognitive tasks compared to those who ate chocolate less frequently.
“We don’t know if people are going to get smarter,” Elias, a psychologist and epidemiologist, said from his office on the Orono campus. “What we found out is that people who ate chocolate performed better [on cognitive functions] than people who did not.”
The study, directed by Elias, tracked more than 1,000 people over 35 years and looked specifically at chocolate consumption’s effect on visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, abstract verbal reasoning, scanning and tracking and overall cognitive functioning.
“We did not follow cognitive function over time and see any rise in intelligence,” he said. “What we did find was that people who ate chocolate on a regular basis performed better on cognitive functions than people who did not.”
The researchers hypothesized that regular intake of cocoa flavanols may be one of several mechanism explaining the cognitive benefits of chocolate. According to the team’s publication, flavonols have multiple effects on the brain on the cellular and molecular levels in the regions involved in learning and memory and by increasing blood flow in the brain promoting development of new blood vessels.
Because nutrients in food can affect brain and cognitive functions, the team believes isolating these nutrients and foods enables dietary interventions to improve cognitive health.
“Adopting dietary patterns to delay or slow the onset of cognitive decline is an appropriate avenue, given the limited treatments available for dementia,” Elias, Crichton and Alkerwi wrote. “The present findings support recent clinical trials suggesting that regular intake of cocoa flavanols may have a beneficial effect on cognitive function, and possibly protect against normal age-related cognitive decline.”
Longer term clinical trials are needed to further investigate the association between chocolate and cognitive health, Elias said, taking into account duration of consumption and overall dietary patterns.
All of this is good news to Kim Dagher, owner of Savour Chocolatier in Veazie.
“I’ve heard that chocolate has all sorts of good health benefits,” Dagher said. “Usually, those benefits are associated with dark chocolate, but [Merrill’s study] includes both light and dark. From what I can see, it is just one more thing to show how healthy chocolate in moderation can be.”
For her part, even though she is surrounded by the sweet confection every day, Dagher said she enjoys at least one small piece of it every day.
“When you eat chocolate you get this emotional high,” she said. “I really do look forward to having some as a treat at the end of my day.”
Not surprisingly, the response to Elias’ study — which has gotten worldwide media attention — has been largely positive.
“People like it because we are not telling them they can’t do something,” he said. “This has been a grandly fun study.”
Article Source: bangordailynews.com