April 12th, 2021


Crazy For Cocoa

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published October 31, 2014

"Compound in Cocoa Found to Reduce Age-related Memory Loss". That was the headline on The Washington Post web site recently. Sounds like good news for everyone who loves chocolate, which are most of us.

The Post article cited a new study that appeared online in Nature Neuroscience (and was partly financed by the chocolate company, Mars) that suggests that a natural compound found in cocoa, tea and some vegetables could reverse age-related memory loss.

This compound is called flavanols, and the scientific part goes like this; it supposedly increases connectivity and subsequently blood flow in a region of the brain critical to memory, which means it can reverse mild memory loss in older adults. As I'm reading this I'm thinking, if everything they say about it is true, I'm making flavanols my new all time favorite compound.

But just as I was ready to rush over to See's Candy for a 10-pound box of Chocolate Buttercreams and Bordeaux, I was stopped short by the next paragraph, which begins "However." You know whenever you read a sentence that starts with "However," you can pretty well flush everything you've just read to that point down the old drainpipe.

The "However" is a warning from the researchers that "the compound found in cocoa exists only in minuscule amounts in the average chocolate bar compared with the amount used in the study, so gorging on chocolate in the name of health and improving one's memory could backfire." I hate studies like this. Why don't they do a study with the right amounts?

The story went on to quote Dr. Scott A. Small, a spoilsport professor of neurology and director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center, who said, "It would make a lot of people happy, but it would also make them unhealthy." This guy is probably skinny and has been skinny all his life. Furthermore he probably said that with a smirk on his face.

The subjects in the study who profited from the flavanol diet were given 900 milligrams a day of the stuff for three months. Compare that to a typical chocolate bar, which has about 40mg of flavanols. So the good news is, there's this stuff they found in cocoa that can counter memory loss. The bad news is, it won't work unless you eat enough chocolate to make yourself violently ill and even if you got past the stomachaches and vomiting you would probably go into a diabetic coma or get so fat that you would have a heart attack and die. So there. Another wonderful study that turns out to be useless.

But Dr. Small wasn't through. He said the new study offers the first direct evidence that memory deteriorates with age because of changes in the dentate gyrus, a region of the hippocampus. Yeah, right. A region of the hippocampus? What is that, a joke? A college for fat people? Maybe that's the place where the people were tested who ate over 900 milligrams of flavanolŠ Hippocampus U.

And what is a dentate gyrus? Some kind of uncontrollable shaking of the teeth? And what does shaky teeth have to do with memory loss anyway? Why don't these "professors" speak normal, everyday American English? Oh, I forgot. We don't teach American English anymore. Excuse me.

Researchers said (among the subjects that received the high flavanol doses) that if a person had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months, on average, that person's memory would function more like a 30- or 40-year-old's.

The article ended by saying, "Most cocoa-processing methods in use today remove many of the flavanols found in cocoa. But the chocolate maker Mars produced a cocoa flavanol test drink specifically designed for the research, which the company also subsidized." Now if Mars could reduce the calories and up the flavanols in a candy bar, they'd really have something. It would be the greatest thing to happen to old people since Depends. You'd have longer lines of seniors at the candy counters then waiting for tickets for a Paul McCartney concert.

This could be a marketing bonanza for Mars. Simply call the new chocolate bar "Remember." Other names might be "Total Recall," or "Sweet Memories." Or maybe link it to an existing product; call it "Milky Way-More Memory." I'm telling you, this candy bar would fly off the shelves.

But if this comes to be, beware young folks. Senior citizens with really good memories can be dangerous.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.