Health by Chocolate
How enjoying a little chocolate might actually help your health.
The Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate
More research needs to be done, but recent studies suggest four possible
health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa.
1. They May Reduce the Risk of Heart
A few squares of dark chocolate a day can reduce the risk of death from
heart attack by almost 50% in some cases, says Diane Becker, MPH, ScD, a
researcher with the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Becker's
research found that blood platelets clotted more slowly in people who had eaten
chocolate than in those who had not. This is significant because when platelets
clump, a clot can form, and when the clot blocks a blood vessel, it can lead to
a heart attack.
"The flavanols in cocoa beans have a biochemical effect of reducing
platelet clumping, similar to but much less than aspirin," Becker says in
an email interview.
After reviewing 136 scientific publications on chocolate and its components
and heart disease, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health
concluded that short-term studies suggest cocoa and chocolate may reduce the
risk of cardiovascular disease by:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Decreasing LDL oxidation
- Anti-inflammation action
2. They May Decrease Blood Pressure and Increase Insulin
Researchers in Italy recently fed 15 healthy people either 3 ounces of dark
chocolate or the same amount of white chocolate -- which contains no flavanol
phytochemicals -- for 15 days. They found that insulin resistance (a risk
factor for diabetes) was significantly lowered in those who ate the dark
chocolate. Systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure
reading), measured daily, was also lower in the group eating dark
3. They May Improve Arterial Blood
Healthy men who consume flavanol-rich cocoa may see improvements in the flow
of blood through their arteries, according to recent research. The researchers
found that when healthy men consumed the flavanol-rich cocoa, the ability of
their blood vessels to relax improved significantly. And arterial blood flow is
important for cardiovascular health.
4. They May Help People with Chronic Fatigue
In a small study in England, 1 1/2 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate was
given to a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome every day for eight
weeks. In the study, which has been submitted for publication, the participants
reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate. Surprisingly, no
weight gain was reported in the chocolate-eating group, according to researcher
Steve Atkin, PhD.
How might it work? The researchers believe that chocolate enhances the
action of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help regulate mood and
sleep. More research needs to be done to confirm a benefit in this area.