Science Reads: ‘Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates’ by Franz H. Messerli

To end Science Reads Week on a lighter note, I’d like to draw your attention to an article1 published in The New England Journal of Medicine last year, which investigates whether eating chocolate makes you smarter. Dr Messerli notes that dietary flavanols, found in dark chocolate, green tea and red wine, have been shown to improve the blood supply to the brain and cause rats to perform better on cognitive tests. He also notes that countries with a high consumption of chocolate, particularly Switzerland, tend to produce a lot of Nobel laureates. When he analyses the data, he finds “a surprisingly strong correlation” between chocolate intake and the number of Nobel Prizes won in a given country. Unfortunately, Sweden messes up his results. But don’t worry, Dr Messerli has an explanation:

“Given its per capita chocolate consumption of 6.4 kg per year, we would predict that Sweden should have produced a total of about 14 Nobel laureates, yet we observe 32. Considering that in this instance the observed number exceeds the expected number by a factor of more than 2, one cannot quite escape the notion that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent patriotic bias when assessing the candidates for these awards or, perhaps, that the Swedes are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition.”

Yes, the article is completely tongue-in-cheek. However, I feel this issue needs further investigation, so I’m off to eat some Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate. Purely in the interests of scientific investigation, you understand. Happy ‘Science Reads Week’ to you all, and may your own scientific investigations be similarly delicious!

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  1. Sorry, this article is now only available to NEJM subscribers.

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