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cognitive function

Eating more chocolate improves a nation’s chances of producing Nobel Prize winners, a recent study suggests.

But how much chocolate do Nobel laureates eat, and how could any such link be explained?

The study’s author, Franz Messerli of Colombia University, started wondering about the power of chocolate after reading that cocoa was good for you.

One paper suggested regular cocoa intake led to improved mental function in elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment, a condition which is often a precursor to dementia, he recalls.

“There is data in rats showing that they live longer and have better cognitive function when they eat chocolate, and even in snails you can show that the snail memory is actually improved,” he says.

So Franz Messerli took the number of Nobel Prize winners in a country as an indicator of general national intelligence and compared that with the nation’s chocolate consumption. The results – published in the New England Journal of Medicine – were striking.

“When you correlate the two – the chocolate consumption with the number of Nobel Prize laureates per capita – there is an incredibly close relationship,” he says.

“This correlation has a <<P value>> of 0.0001. This means there is a less than one-in-10,000 probability that this correlation is simply down to chance.”

It might not surprise you that Switzerland came top of the chocolate-fuelled league of intelligence, having both the highest chocolate consumption per head and also the highest number of Nobel laureates per capita.

Sweden, however, was an anomaly. It had a very high number of Nobel laureates but its people consumed much less chocolate on average.

Eating more chocolate improves a nation's chances of producing Nobel Prize winners, a recent study suggests

Eating more chocolate improves a nation’s chances of producing Nobel Prize winners, a recent study suggests

Franz Messerli has a theory: “The Nobel prize obviously is donated or evaluated in Sweden [apart from the Peace Prize] so I thought that the Swedes might have a slightly patriotic bias.

“Or the other option is that the Swedes are excessively sensitive and only small amounts stimulate greatly their intelligence, so that might be the reason that they have so many Nobel Prize laureates.”

An entirely unscientific survey was conducted to ascertain just how much chocolate Nobel laureates ate.

Christopher Pissarides, from the London School of Economics, reckons his chocolate consumption laid the foundations for his Nobel Prize for Economics in 2010.

“Throughout my life, ever since I was a young boy, chocolate was part of my diet. I would eat it on a daily basis. It’s one of the things I eat to cheer me up.

“To win a Nobel Prize you have to produce something that others haven’t thought about – chocolate that makes you feel good might contribute a little bit. Of course it’s not the main factor but… anything that contributes to a better life and a better outlook in your life then contributes to the quality of your work.”

However, Rolf Zinkernagel – the largely Swiss-educated 1996 Nobel Prize winner for medicine – bucks his national trend.

“I am an outlier, because I don’t eat more than – and never have eaten more than – half a kilogram of chocolate per year,” he says.

Robert Grubbs, an American who shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2005, says he eats chocolate whenever possible.

“I had a friend who introduced me to chocolate and beer when we were younger. I have transferred that now to chocolate and red wine.

“I like to hike and I eat chocolate then, I eat chocolate whenever I can.”

But this is a controversial subject.

Grubbs’ countryman, Eric Cornell, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, told Reuters: “I attribute essentially all my success to the very large amount of chocolate that I consume. Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid… dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s one thing if you want a medicine or chemistry Nobel Prize but if you want a physics Nobel Prize it pretty much has got to be dark chocolate.”

But when More or Less contacted him to elaborate on this comment, he changed his tune.

“I deeply regret the rash remarks I made to the media. We scientists should strive to maintain objective neutrality and refrain from declaring our affiliation either with milk chocolate or with dark chocolate,” he said.

“Now I ask that the media kindly respect my family’s privacy in this difficult time.”

It might surprise you that we are trying to make a serious point. This is a classic case where correlation, however strong, does not mean causation.

Franz Messerli gave us another example. In post-war Germany, the human birth rate fell along with the stork population. Were fewer storks bringing fewer babies?

The answer was that more homes were being built, destroying the storks’ habitat. And the homes were small – not the sort of places you could raise a large family in.

“This is a very, very common way of thinking,” he says.

“When you see a correlation, you do think there is causation in one way or another. And in general it’s absolutely true. But here we have a classic example where we cannot find a good reason why these two correlate so closely.”


Drinking a litre of mineral water every day can prevent cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s sufferers by removing aluminium from their bodies, a new study has found.

British researchers found drinking silicon-rich mineral water “significantly reduced” the levels of neurotoxin aluminium in the body.

Aluminium has long been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s but no scientific relationship has yet been proved.

Patients who took part in the new study drank a litre of mineral water every day for 13 weeks – and the majority showed no further signs of cognitive decline.

One patient saw the amount of aluminium in their body drop by 70% and three participants actually showed an improvement in their mental health.

Professor Christopher Exley, of Keele University, who led the research, said the “surprising” results gave hope to findings ways to combat the devastating disease.

He said: “There were two parts to our research. The first is that drinking silicon water does remove aluminium from the body.

“When you drink silicon-rich mineral water aluminium throughout the body is gathered up into the blood and then excreted through the urine.

“It seems to purge the aluminium from the body. We now know we can use this silicon-rich <<therapy>> water to reduce aluminium.

“The second part of our research was looking at the cognitive abilities of people with Alzheimer’s and whether these changed as the aluminium was reduced.

“The most interesting thing was that we did see this potential relationship between the removal of aluminium and the positive improvement in cognitive function.

“It is highly unlikely to see changes over such a short period of time so the fact we saw changes in cognitive ability was quite a surprise.

“We saw improvement in some cases, cognitive function remained the same in others and it did decrease in others.”

Previous studies have linked the presence of aluminium with plaques and tangles – two kinds of microscopic damage – in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers examined the aluminium levels of 15 sufferers and their carers or partners – 15 women and 15 men in total.

The brand of water used in the study – published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease – was a Malaysian water called Spritzer, which has high levels of the chemical element silicon.

Brands with similar levels include Volvic and Fiji water.

Scientists asked the participants to drink a litre of Spritzer water every day for 13 weeks and measured their aluminium levels at the end.

The patients saw a huge reduction in their aluminium levels, with a number showing drops of 50, 60 and 70%.

Participants were also assessed using the ADAS-Cog (Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive) method, which is a recognized 11-part test.

The tests include memory questions and “simple” tasks such as drawing a clock face – people with a deteriorating function may struggle to put the numbers in the right place.

After 13 weeks, cognitive function is eight of the 15 Alzheimer’s sufferers had not deteriorated – and actually improved “substantially” in three.

Prof. Christopher Exley added: “We now want to carry out further research to see if we could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s who seem to be predisposed to it.

“They are usually aged between 40 and 60. If we could get people to include silicon-rich water in their diet in the future and reduce their risk, it would be a great.”

The Spritzer mineral water containing 35 mg of silicon per litre.

However, Prof. Christopher Exley says mineral water brands also contain high levels of silicon.

He said: “Volvic has high levels of silicon, around 20mg/litre. Fiji water has approximately 45mg/litre.

“There is a simple equation you can do to work out the silicon levels in water. If you look at the back of the bottle, it will often state a mg/litre analysis.

“On that list should be <<silica>>, which is silicon with oxygen. If you divide that number by two you get the approximate value of silicon in that water.”

Prof. Christopher Exley added that it is more effective to drink the water over a shorter period, such as an hour, rather than sipping it all at once, in order to remove aluminium.

“The major challenge is that we don’t have an effective drug for Alzheimer’s. This is a real tragedy,” he said.

“While we know a huge amount, we don’t have an effective drug and I think anything that shows some promise should stand a chance of being investigated.

“I think this deserves a chance.”

The research is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Volume 33, No. 2.


Being overweight is not just bad for your waistline but for your brain too, say researchers who have linked obesity to declining mental performance.

Experts are not sure why this might be, but say metabolic changes such as high blood sugar and raised cholesterol are likely to be involved.

Obesity has already been tipped as a risk factor for dementia.

The work, published in Neurology, tracked the health of more than 6,000 British people over a decade.

The participants, who were aged between 35 and 55, took tests on memory and other cognitive skills three times over a 10-year period.

People who were both obese and who had unhealthy metabolic changes showed a much faster decline on their cognitive test scores compared to others in the study.

Being overweight is not just bad for your waistline but for your brain too

Being overweight is not just bad for your waistline but for your brain too

The experts stress that they only looked at cognitive function, not dementia.

The boundary between normal ageing, mild cognitive impairment and dementia is blurred – not all impairment leads to dementia.

All of the study participants came from one group of civil service workers, which may mean the findings may not apply more generally to other populations.

They said: “More research is needed to look at the effects of genetic factors and also to take into account how long people have been obese and how long they have had these metabolic risk factors and also to look at cognitive test scores spanning adulthood to give us a better understanding of the link between obesity and cognitive function, such as thinking, reasoning and memory.”

Shirley Cramer of the Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “We do not yet know why obesity and metabolic abnormality are linked to poorer brain performance, but with obesity levels on the rise, it will be important to delve a little deeper into this association.

“While the study itself focuses on cognitive decline, previous research suggests that a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol in midlife can also help stave off dementia. With dementia figures spiralling towards a million, the findings suggest we should be conscious of our general health throughout life.”