Chocolate consumption may protect older people from cognitive decline, possibly preventing the development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to Portuguese researchers at the Institute of Molecular Medicine. However, researchers cautioned this is only true for people who drink an average of less than one espresso per day.
The study, “Chocolate Consumption is Associated with a Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline,” was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Chocolate consumption is widespread throughout the world. It is commonly associated with pleasure and is generally considered comfort food. Throughout history, chocolate has been used to treat a variety of health issues, including fever, diarrhea, and insomnia. More recently, studies have reported that chocolate is also good for cardiovascular and neurological health.
Although chocolate has already been associated with enhanced cognition, studies often evaluate the specific components of chocolate or the effects of acute exposure to chocolate.
In this study, researchers, led by Alexandre de Mendonça, evaluated the effects of long-term chocolate consumption in cognitive decline.
The researchers evaluated 309 people in Porto, Portugal, ages 65 or older with normal cognitive function, as assessed by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Their dietary habits were evaluated at baseline though a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) comprising 82 food and beverage items or groups.
Chocolate items included chocolate bars, chocolate snacks, and cocoa powder, and the study did not discriminate between milk or dark chocolate. After a median follow-up of 48 months, the cognitive function of study participants was again evaluated with the MMSE.
Results revealed that chocolate intake decreased the risk of cognitive decline by approximately 40 percent. Importantly, participants who had a lower risk of cognitive decline were those who ate less chocolate — that is, those who consumed on average three pieces of a chocolate bar, one chocolate snack, or one tablespoon of cocoa powder per week.
Then, the researchers addressed whether caffeine intake modified the risk of cognitive decline in those who consumed moderate amounts of chocolate. The study revealed that the protective effect of chocolate was observed only in those who drank an average of less than one espresso a day.
This study suggests that regular, moderate long-term consumption of chocolate has protective effects on cognitive decline in elderly people, which may be important in the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
However, the specific components of chocolate and their biological mechanisms should be investigated as a possible means of developing new preventive medicines.