The next time you forget the name of your neighbor’s dog (What is it about “Mr. Biscuits” that’s so hard to remember?) don’t reach for the ginkgo pills (that stuff doesn’t work anyway)
In what is possibly the best—or at the very least, the most entertaining—study we’ve ever heard about, scientists from the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute set out to see if chocolate can help improve memory. In snails. (Don’t worry; there’s something in this for all of you non-snails, too.)
Other foods could have worked—green tea, cocoa, and red wine also contain epicatechin, a type of plant antioxidant known as a flavonoid—it’s just that this particular study happened to focus on chocolate. And snails.
Here’s how the experiment worked: The scientists submerged snails in either normal water or water with epicatechin for 30 minutes. They rendered the water hypoxic (meaning they sucked some of the O2 out of the water so the snails would pop their breathing tubes out to look for more) and poked the snails with a stick whenever the little guys tried to use their breathing tubes. “Much like if you were in my class and every time you yawned, I tapped you on the nose, you’d learn not to yawn,” explains lead study author Ken Lukowiak, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Calgary.
One day later, the scientists repeated the poking exercise to see how many times snails opened their breathing tubes. A reduction would prove that the snails remembered what happened when they popped out their tubes.
The results? Snails in the regular water had memories that lasted about three hours. But snails in the “chocolate water” could go from 24 to 48 hours. “That’s a real big difference,” Lukowiak says. “To go from three hours to 24, you have to have altered gene activity in the neurons that make the memory.” In other words, the flavonoid in chocolate appeared to cross the skin to directly affect the brain just like oxygen does.
So do these results mean anything if you happen to not be a snail?
Absolutely. “A neuron in any animal behaves very similarly to a neuron in a human,” says Lukowiak.
But in the name of science, Lukowiak tried the experiment with his own daughter. Not by putting her in water and bopping her on the head—let’s not be ridiculous here—but by feeding her chocolate before a big exam. For three nights prior to the test, she consumed dark chocolate right before studying. “She said she did much better than she thought she would!” Lukowiak says, though he acknowledged other confounding variables. “Possibly it just made her happy.”
Sure, more research is needed before science can say that chocolate really does help the memory of a human, but this is one thing we’re happy to jump the gun on—in the name of science, of course. Bring on the chocolate.