Research has associated flavonoids, a type of antioxidants found in cocoa, with higher scores on cognitive ability. The recent announcement of 2012 Nobel Prize winners inspired a New York doctor to investigate whether a nation’s per capita chocolate consumption affects its production of Nobel Prize winners. He found that the more chocolate a nation consumes, the more Nobel Prize winners it produces.
Chocolate health benefits
Dark chocolate, loaded with antioxidants, appears to be a powerhouse of health benefits. Studies show that eating a few bites of dark chocolate two or three times a week can help lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate has also been shown to improve blood flow to the heart, as well as prevent blood clots and arteriosclerosis.
Chocolate and cognitive ability
What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. By helping cells function normally to reduce insulin resistance, the flavonoids in dark chocolate may also help prevent type 2 diabetes, a known risk factor for dementia. Because it helps keep blood vessels healthy, dark chocolate can increase blood flow to the brain, which research suggests can reduce stroke risk and help improve cognitive ability, as well as slow the rate of age-related cognitive decline.
Dark chocolate’s affect on cognitive ability intrigued Dr. Franz Messerli when 2012 Nobel announcements hit the news. He hatched a novel idea: If the population of a nation eats more chocolate, will it produce more Nobel Prize winners? His analysis revealed “a surprisingly powerful correlation.”
Switzerland tops the list
Dr. Messerli, a hypertension researcher at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York, published his finding in the New England Journal of Medicine. He used industry data on chocolate sales in 23 countries and a list from Wikipedia ranking countries according to the number of Nobel laureates per capita.
Switzerland led in both chocolate consumption and Nobels, closely followed by Sweden and Denmark. The U.S. is in the middle of the pack with the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany. China, Japan and Brazil brought up the rear.
Sweden was an anomaly with 32 Nobel laureates. Based on the math it should have produced only 14 prizewinners. Messerli suggested that either the Nobel panel, based in Sweden, may have “patriotic bias,” or that Swedes are especially sensitive to the effects of chocolate on cognition.
P-values don’t lie
Although the “study” was reported with tongue firmly in cheek, the results were supported by a statistic vital to the credibility of all scientific research: the “p-value.” The p-value is a linear correlation measuring the probability of a given result. Messerli’s p-value was 0.0001. This means the odds that more chocolate consumption and more Nobel laureates happen concurrently merely due to chance are less than one in 10,000. When Sweden was removed from the calculations, the correlation was even stronger.
Meaning Eat more chocolate
Messerli also calculated the level of chocolate consumption a country would need to add a Nobel laureate to its total: about 14 ounces per person per year. If those numbers are accurate, the U.S. will have to increase its per capita annual chocolate intake by 275 million pounds.
Can Americans meet the challenge of increasing their nation’s collective cognitive ability?