Sub-Chronic Consumption of Dark Chocolate Enhances Cognitive Function and Releases Nerve Growth Factors: A Parallel-Group Randomized Trial

Nutrients. 2019 Nov 16;11(11):2800. doi: 10.3390/nu11112800.


Previous research has shown that habitual chocolate intake is related to cognitive performance and that frequent chocolate consumption is significantly associated with improved memory. However, little is known about the effects of the subchronic consumption of dark chocolate (DC) on cognitive function and neurotrophins. Eighteen healthy young subjects (both sexes; 20-31 years old) were randomly divided into two groups: a DC intake group (n = 10) and a cacao-free white chocolate (WC) intake group (n = 8). The subjects then consumed chocolate daily for 30 days. Blood samples were taken to measure plasma levels of theobromine (a methylxanthine most often present in DC), nerve growth factor (NGF), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and to analyze hemodynamic parameters. Cognitive function was assessed using a modified Stroop color word test and digital cancellation test. Prefrontal cerebral blood flow was measured during the tests. DC consumption increased the NGF and theobromine levels in plasma, enhancing cognitive function performance in both tests. Interestingly, the DC-mediated enhancement of cognitive function was observed three weeks after the end of chocolate intake. WC consumption did not affect NGF and theobromine levels or cognitive performance. These results suggest that DC consumption has beneficial effects on human health by enhancing cognitive function.

Keywords: Stroop color word test; cognitive function; dark chocolate; digital cancellation test; nerve growth factor; subchronic effect; theobromine; young-adult.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Chocolate*
  • Cognition*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Growth Factor / blood
  • Nerve Growth Factors / blood*
  • Stroop Test
  • Theobromine / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Nerve Growth Factor
  • Theobromine