Messerli went on to hypothesize that since chocolate consumption has been duly shown 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." Though, of course, he stipulated, "A second hypothesis, reverse causation—that is, that enhanced cognitive performance could stimulate countrywide chocolate consumption—must also be considered."
Digging further into the Nobel-chocolate correlation the following year, Golomb surveyed 23 winners of Nobel prizes (in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics) about their chocolate habits. The responses are great. One prize-winner in chemistry said, "Chocolate made me who I am today." Another, in physics, said, "Who can say a bad word about any research that is poised so precisely in the vast ￼space between balanced objectivity and total confusion."
A physicist wrote simply, "White chocolate is an obscenity."
Most poignant was the comment of a medicine/physiology laureate: "This has made me wonder if I might have been more successful had I consumed more chocolate."
On the whole, ten laureates (43 percent) reported eating chocolate more than twice a week, compared with only 25 percent of 237 well-educated non-Nobel-laureates. The results were published last summer in the journal Nature.
Since these studies linking chocolate consumption to mental function are based on the understanding of chocolate as an antioxidant that supports cell energy, Golomb decided now to look at trans fats, which have antithetical properties. Since trans fats are prooxidant and induce inflammation (which is linked to worse memory and cognition), Golomb told me by email, "We reasoned that trans fats might be adversely linked to memory."
She explained that both the oxidative stress itself (through effects on proteins, lipids, DNA, and RNA) and inadequate cell energy contribute to cell dysfunction and cell death. Both are linked to worse memory. Inadequate cell energy can lead to "idling neurons" that might be restored with enough energy.
And so, the inflammation induced by trans fats (and reduced by chocolate) may underlie these new memory findings. Even if it's not the trans fats that drove this new correlation, the effect does seem to be due to some dietary factor. So, optimizing one's memory is yet another reason to eat well. I would make a joke here about "brain food," because that seems to be what people do when writing about this sort of research, but I am out of jokes. Maybe I need some chocolate, haha. Is that a joke? People tend to laugh after comments about loving chocolate.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a proposal out now that would remove trans fats from classification as food altogether, making it an "additive" instead. In recent years many companies have stopped using these oils and eliminated trans fats from products—either voluntarily or by law in places like New York City and California. Public opinion and aversion to products that contain them has led to trans fats all but banning themselves.
"As I tell patients," Golomb said in the press statement last week, "while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people."
I asked if people laugh when she says that. Is anyone confused about the idea of a human's "shelf life?"
"I think they mostly get it," she said.