Does Chocolate Help Your Memory?

Woman holding glass of hot chocolate
macinate/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Chocolate – most of us love it. But is it good for anything besides our taste buds?

Science Says

A study on drinking hot cocoa demonstrated increased cognitive scores for the participants who drank hot cocoa twice a day. The people involved in this study did not have dementia and were over the age of 65 years.

Physical Benefits in the Brain

Some studies have also shown that cocoa improves that actual health of the brain. For example, MRI testing has shown increased functioning in the hippocampal area — an area typically affected in early Alzheimer's disease – with high levels of cocoa consumption.​

Improved Insulin Functioning in the Brain & Improved Cognitive Scores

Another recent research study concluded that cocoa flavonols can reduce the effects of aging in the brain by improving the insulin functioning in the brain. Participants in this study were given a daily cocoa drink for eight weeks and administered the Trail Making Test, the verbal fluency test and the Mini-Mental Status Exam. Half of the participants received cocoa drinks that had a high level of flavonols; the other half received drinks with a low level. The participants who drank the high-level cocoa drinks had greater improvements in their scores on the cognitive tests than those with the low level cocoa drink. Insulin functioning also improved significantly in the high cocoa flavonol level group.

Research has shown that Insulin functioning n the brain has been correlated with the development of cognitive decline. Due to this, some scientists refer to Alzheimer's as type 3 diabetes.

Improved Cognition in People Diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment

Researchers conducted a study published in 2012 with participants who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). (MCI often, but not always, progresses to Alzheimer's disease.) The participants involved were assigned to drank cocoa drinks containing high, medium or low levels of cocoa flavanols for eight weeks. The results showed that those who consumed the higher levels of cocoa flavanols performed significantly better on cognitive testing at the end of the study.

Will All Chocolate Help Your Brain?

It's important to note that, unfortunately, the typical milk chocolate bar is not what is being tested here. Most scientific researchers use less-processed cocoa powder because unprocessed cocoa has a higher level of flavanols in it. Flavanols serve as antioxidants and reverse some of the damage done over time to cells. The healthiest chocolate appears to be the least processed (and thus — more bitter) chocolate.

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Article Sources

  • British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2013 Mar;75(3):716-27. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance.
  • Hypertension.2012; 60: 794-801. Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment.
  • Nature Neuroscience. 2014 Oct 26. [Epub ahead of print]. Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults.
  • The American Journal of Nutrition. December 17, 2014. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial.