Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD
Flavanols, one of the groups of polyphenols found in red wines, cocoa, green tea, and some fruits, have been demonstrated in numerous studies, both of populations and in the laboratory, to be correlated with good health, mental and physical fitness, and long life. They benefit the heart and arteries and appear to improve mental function (cognition) in humans and in rats.
Franz Messerli, a physician working at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York, also a devotee of dark chocolate, has published in the October 18 new england journal of medicine a short piece, “Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates”, in which he explores a possible direct connection between flavanol consumption –in the form of chocolate – and cognitive excellence, as measured by the number of Nobel Prizes per capita in various countries.
Messerli found a “close, significant linear correlation”, with Switzerland as the top performer in purportedly chocolate-fueled prize winners. He estimated “that it would take about O.4kg of chocolate per capita to increase the number of Nobel laureates in a given country by 1. For the United States, that would amount to 125 million kg per year. The minimum effective dose seems to hover around 2kg per year . . .” The only outlier is Sweden, which has won a disproportionately large number of Nobels. I wonder how to explain that.
Of course, this is highly speculative. While we can hope that the flavanols of chocolate and wine enhance health and brain power, there exist too many possible confounders to make this more than wishful thinking at this time. It might be the reverse, that smart people like chocolate, or that some other factor or factors influence both chocolate seeking and intelligence. Still, a little dark chocolate would only improve every day.
It should be easy to do a similar study of the effects of wine on cognition. Wait . . . it has in effect been done over and over. A little wine can only improve every day too.