Chocolate lovers, take heart! Reports from recent studies have given you plenty of reasons to keep on eating chocolate without feeling guilty. In fact, the news from several studies shows that chocolate is quite effective against the number one killer of Americans, heart disease. Another serious threat to our health, the effects of environmental pollution, is significantly reduced by eating chocolate. And the news gets even better for females.
Good news for chocolate (and your heart)
Epidemiologic studies have supported the notion that regular consumption of foods containing flavonoids reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. While flavonoids are found in many plants, cocoa is particularly rich in a subclass of flavonoids known as flavanols. Several dietary intervention trials with flavanol-containing cocoa products have shown improvements in endothelial and platelet function, as well as blood pressure.
In a meta-analysis conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, researchers reviewed extensive data from randomized control trials to determine the effects of flavanol-rich cocoa products or dark chocolate on lipid profiles. In all, 10 clinical trials consisting of 320 participants were included in the analysis. The researchers determined that intervention with dark chocolate cocoa products significantly reduced serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol levels. No statistically significant effects were observed for high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol.
Although the Boston researchers found no effect from chocolate on HDL, a research team in the UK has recently found that chocolate, which is high in polyphenols, is effective in improving the atherosclerotic cholesterol profile in patients with diabetes by increasing HDL and improving the HDL/LDL ratio.
A study reported in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology suggested that diesel exhaust particles which generate free radicals may be involved in the recent increases in the prevalence of lung diseases. The study investigated the effects of dietary supplementation of antioxidant polyphenols from cocoa on mice in which lung injury from diesel exhaust particles was induced. Supplementing of their diets by 1.0 percent polyphenols inhibited the diesel induced lung injury.
Other evidence of lung injury indicating oxidative stress was also observed in the lungs of diesel treated mice, however, these indicators of free radical damage were barely visible in mice pretreated with the cocoa supplement.
Chocolate is a great antidote to stress in females
Prolonged stress leads to behavioral and metabolic changes, and alterations in eating behaviors. In a study reported in the journal Appetite, researchers wanted to see the effects of chocolate consumption on chronic stress in animals. They found that male rats under chronic stress ate more chocolate than females, but continued to exhibit the physiological effects of their stress, such as weight gain, abdominal fat deposition, and higher plasma levels of total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and glucose. Clearly eating chocolate was not an effective behavior for them to use to cope with stress.
On the other hand, the female rats who ate chocolate in response to stress maintained a stable physiological profile and did not show the ill effects seen in the male rats. The fact that females often reach for chocolate in times of high stress while males generally do not may be instinctual behavior.
Chocolate has been revered throughout history
Love of chocolate goes back at least as far as the Aztecs. Cocoa beans were so highly valued during the rule of Emperor Montezuma that they were used as currency. Chocolate was believed to boost physical and mental energy, provide memory and wisdom, and act as an aphrodisiac.
For hundreds of years, healers used chocolate to cure ailments such as tuberculosis, gout, fatigue, diarrhea, weak digestion, hemorrhoids, low virility, and shortness of breath.
More health benefits of chocolate
- Chocolate is chocked full of nutrients. It is an excellent source of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It also contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E
- Chocolate gives us energy. The theobromine in chocolate stimulates the central nervous system and facilitates muscle exertion. The small amount of caffeine it contains increases intellectual activity, watchfulness, and resistance to fatigue. An average size chocolate bar contains just about 6 mg. of caffeine, compared to 100-150 mg. in a cup of coffee.
- A study conducted in the U.K. found that theobromine from chocolate may be more effective as a cough medicine than standard drug treatments. The research showed that theobromine acts on the sensory nerve endings of the vagus nerve, which runs through the airways from the lungs to the brain.
- The mood-boosting effects of chocolate are due to endorphins. These natural brain chemicals are released when you eat chocolate. Endorphins can help with premenstrual syndrome. Anandamide in chocolate acts on brain receptors to help promote a mood boost and enhance feelings of well being.
- A researcher from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine says that eating a few squares of dark chocolate every day can reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack by as much as 50%. His study found that blood platelets clot slower in people who eat chocolate.
- Another study found that adults with chronic fatigue syndrome who eat 1.5 ounces of 85% dark chocolate were less fatigued.
- An Italian study found that eating dark chocolate normalizes the body’s metabolism of blood sugar, reducing the risk of diabetes and hypoglycemia.
- In addition to polyphenols, which promote heart health, chocolate contains catechins which are antioxidants that help protect the body against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Chocolate is also high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that increases the body’s production of serotonin, antidepressants and stress relievers. Keeping up your tryptophan level may prevent cravings for starchy and sweet foods, and help you if you are trying to lose weight.
For more information, check out these studies:
Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study