By Jennifer Warner
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Oct. 10, 2012 -- Eat chocolate, win a Nobel Prize?
It may sound far-fetched, but a new study suggests it might not be bad advice.
The results show countries that eat the most chocolate also have the highest number of Nobel laureates per capita.
Researchers say the idea stems from several studies that have shown a group of antioxidants known as flavonoids can improve thinking ability.
Cocoa and chocolate are rich in a subgroup of flavonoids known as flavanols. These antioxidants are also found in green tea and red wine.
Recent studies have suggested that flavanols seem to slow down and even reverse the decline in thinking ability that comes with age.
Some research has also shown that flavonoids can improve blood flow to the brain, which may help it perform better.
"Since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates," writes Franz H. Messerli, MD, of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York City, in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Chocolate-Nobel Link
Researchers say since eating chocolate has been shown to improve thinking ability on an individual basis, it may also have the same effect on whole populations.
Since there was no data on overall national intellect available, researchers say they used the total number of Nobel laureates per capita as an indicator of superior brain power among different populations.
They ranked a list of 22 countries in terms of Nobel Prize winners per capita through Oct. 10, 2011, and then compared it to information on per capita annual chocolate consumption.
The results showed a "surprisingly powerful correlation" between the amount of chocolate each country ate and the number of Nobel laureates it produced.
The more chocolate a nation ate, the more Nobel Prizes it had to show for it.
"Switzerland was the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel laureates and chocolate consumption," writes Messerli.
He estimates that it would take a little less than a pound of chocolate per person per year to increase the number of Nobel laureates in a given country by one.
For the U.S., that would mean the nation as a whole would have to eat more than 275 million pounds of chocolate per year to bring home one more Nobel Prize.
Of course, researchers say more studies are needed to prove whether the flavonoids in chocolate were the true underlying cause behind this link between chocolate and superior brain power.
SOURCE: Messerli, F. The New England Journal of Medicine, published online Oct. 10, 2012.
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