OIt always seemed like a match made in heaven, but now we have the science to back it up: a mixture of brewed coffee and chocolate’s main ingredient, cocoa, can boost both your productivity and your mood.
Clarkson University researcher Ali Boolani recently completed a year-long study in which he analyzed the effects of two of the world’s favorite delights. He devised a double-blind study in which some participants got brewed cocoa, others got cocoa with caffeine, caffeine without cocoa, or a placebo with neither caffeine nor cocoa (double blind means neither the subjects nor the researchers knew what they got until after the experiment was over). Before the drinks, they were asked to complete some simple tasks such as watching groups of letters float on a screen and noting when an “X” appeared after an “A.” They also did some pretty simple math. After the drink, they were asked to complete tests to evaluate their cognitive skills and mood.
Perhaps surprisingly, the best results came from the participants who drank the coffee mixture. It’s not clear why, though Boolani has an idea.
“It was a really fun study,” Boolani says. “Cocoa increases cerebral blood flow, which increases cognition and attention. Caffeine alone can increase anxiety. This particular project found that cocoa lessens caffeine’s anxiety-producing effects — a good reason to drink mocha lattes!”
Of course, this was just an observational study, with no mechanism formally proposed. But for coffee and hot chocolate fans everywhere, this is good news.
“The results of the tests are definitely promising and show that cocoa and caffeine are good choices for students and anyone else who needs to improve sustained attention,” says Boolani.
However, even though this study was published in a serious journal and peer-reviewed, it has to be said there is a shadow of a doubt floating above it — as it was funded by the Hershey Company, one of the largest chocolate producers in North America. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the study is biased or that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’d generally look at this type of study with a bit more skepticism than usual. When a study funded by a chocolate company finds that chocolate’s main ingredient is good for you, it’s always a bit questionable. It’s also very hard to quantify the effect that this has on people and there’s also not a clear cocoa/coffee ratio that yields optimal results. Still, Boolani says he’s planning further research on this matter:
“I’ll be doing some related and follow-up studies at Clarkson to look at differences in natural vs. synthetic caffeine, and other cocoa studies” Boolani adds. “I’m excited about them.”
Journal Reference: Ali Boolani, Jacob B. Lindheimer, Bryan D. Loy, Stephen Crozier, Patrick J. O’Connor. Acute effects of brewed cocoa consumption on attention, motivation to perform cognitive work and feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue: a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover experiment. BMC Nutrition, 2017; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s40795-016-0117-z
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.