Chocolate More Powerful Than Exercise or Media More Powerful than Science?

Copyright_rido_123RFStockPhotoYet another study has been released saying that eating chocolate is good for you, but could it actually be better than exercise?

We’ve been hearing for a while about the benefits of chocolate. WebMD reports a Harvard meta-analysis that looked carefully at 21 studies with 2,575 participants and found consistent evidence that cocoa provides numerous benefits:

  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Decreases risk of diabetes
  • Reduces risk of heart attack

According to Natural Society, “dark chocolate contains magnesium, vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E and is rich in antioxidants making its free radical fighting power worthy of consideration.”

An older study also showed that drinking cocoa for 30 days helped older adults develop scores on cognitive tests and that they did better than a group that exercised.

But this recent study surprised many by reporting that participants (50-69 year-olds) given a large dose of flavanols reported improved memory and cognitive ability. Flavanols are the naturally occurring antioxidant found in various types of plants, including cocoa and berries.

However, some skeptics are already raising concerns the study, saying the evidence shows no more than chance improvement and questioning the credibility of the study:

Hilda Bastian, a scientist and advocate for more accurate and more accessible information about science, in an open forum on PubMed commented:

“This report of a very small, short-term trial in healthy adults does not meet the CONSORT standards for trial reporting in several key respects. It does not provide sufficient data on the cognitive outcomes assessed, nor an adequate flow chart of outcomes (despite considerable attrition). There is also very little detail provided in the record of this trial at …The abstract does not make it clear that this is a dietary supplement and exercise trial (partially funded by a manufacturer).”

Bastian goes on to reference the fact that no effect at all was seen in the group who exercised and to point out that this raises serious questions about methodology and analysis:

“No effect was found for the exercise component in the trial, and out of the two cognitive measures, some effect was found for one, but not the other. That this is a chance finding surely can’t be ruled out.”

She also questions the report’s own records:

“This report describes low vs high supplement groups. The study in for the trial number they provide, however, was for a supplement and a placebo comparator.”

Chocolate clearly has some benefits, but be aware that the benefits are from flavenols in unprocessed cocoa, that seeing those benefits would require quite large doses, and that the benefits are almost certainly not a valid replacement for exercise.