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Chocolate does not prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease


I keep reading about the growing marketing and promotion of chocolate as a “healthy” food that does everything from helping you have a healthy heart to preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Those of you who read my takedowns of various medical claims know that I will first find clinical trials that support those claims. Of course, I did research these claims to spare you the time searching the internet.

I recently wrote that chocolate did not have any significant clinical benefit for preventing heart disease. We all want to consume our chocolate and tell everyone you’re not eating it for pleasure but to keep your heart healthy. I am so sorry that I busted that myth.

Of course, I now need to look at the claims about chocolate and improved cognitive function, which might lead you to think that it might reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, a large clinical trial finds that there is no link. As I usually do, I will take a look at that research and analyze its results.

photo of chocolate bars and cacao powder on spoon
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Chocolate and dementia

In a paper published in November 2023 in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Bonnie C Sachs, Department of Neurology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and colleagues examined the cognitive effects of cocoa extract (500 mg/day cocoa flavanols) on 2262 adults aged 65 and over without dementia who underwent cognitive testing at baseline and annually for 3 years. 

All study groups were balanced according to demographics, cardiovascular disease history, diabetes, depression, smoking status, alcohol intake, chocolate intake, and prior multivitamin use. Baseline cognitive scores were also similar between study groups. Researchers had complete data on 77% of study participants.

The primary endpoint of this study was the effect of cocoa extract vs placebo on an individual’s Global Cognitive Function composite score.

The key result — there was no effect of cocoa on global cognitive function. In other words, consuming chocolate, despite its lovely taste, does not help your brain work better nor does it prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Summary

I know that this result was disappointing to those of us who love chocolate and hoped that there were some health benefits to consuming it. However, this large, well-controlled clinical trial showed no benefits of chocolate to cognitive function (and heart disease).

The study appears to be well-designed with excellent statistical analyses. I could find nothing that would make me think that they missed a key result that would negate their findings. It just seems that chocolate is delicious but it’s health effects are not apparent.

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Michael Simpson

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