If you believe everything you read in magazines and on the Internet, you might already be convinced that chocolate is all we need to cure our many ills. It has been touted as a health food that is good for everything from improving blood flow, to curing depression and spicing up our love lives. But is any of this really true?
There is actual scientific evidence, looking at dark chocolate in particular, which details a multitude of benefits, but I suggest you take this with a grain of sugar. Here are some of the major findings:
Chocolate can improve brain health
The results of a limited study of 60 seniors done at Harvard suggest that older people who drink two cups of hot chocolate a day may protect their brains from memory loss. The chocolate appeared to preserve blood flow to the brain. Another study found that an extract of cocoa might help reduce or block the damage to the nerve pathways found in those with Alzheimer’s disease. More studies need to be done, but this is a good start.
Chocolate can help prevent diabetes and heart disease
A recent study conducted in Luxembourg of over 1000 people found that those who regularly consumed chocolate had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, of note is that the chocolate consumers were generally younger and healthier than the non-consumers to begin with.
A huge study spanning 11 years observed 21,000 older residents of Norfolk, England. Researchers found that 12% of those in the top tier of chocolate consumption developed or died of heart disease vs. 17.4% of those who did not eat chocolate. These are not huge findings, but they are of some significance.
Another small study looked at the result of giving dark chocolate to patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD causes a circulation problem and makes it difficult to walk. Those given chocolate were able to walk farther and had improved blood flow. But even these modest results were qualified; the same effect was seen as a result from regular meditation.
Chocolate can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol
In a small controlled trial of men conducted over 2 months, cocoa powder significantly decreased the type of LDL or bad cholesterol that can cause harm to arteries. It also increased HDL or good cholesterol by 20% while it lowered the LDL cholesterol levels by 20%. This may be in part why eating chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease.
Chocolate and Libido
A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that women who ate chocolate every day had higher libidos. However, in many studies where this finding was noted, the women who ate chocolate frequently were significantly younger than those who did not. Thus, libido strength may be related to age rather than chocolate intake. So, does chocolate really increase sex drive? The definite answer is: Maybe.
Chocolate does cause blood vessels to dilate and endorphins to be released. How this impacts mood and sex drive still needs to be determined by further study.
Chocolate can stop a cough
Dark chocolate contains a chemical known as theobromine that works as a great cough suppressant. Taking a small square of chocolate and letting it melt on the tongue is a great way to stop a cough. Next time you have a cough, try it. If you like chocolate, you will like this treatment!
Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, and in small amounts, it can be a healthy benefit to the heart and blood vessels. The key, of course, is to eat it in moderation. It may be really good for us in other ways, but the evidence is not completely convincing. It is also important to note most of the studies supporting its benefit are observational and rely on subjects’ recall of their chocolate consumption, which could be faulty. In addition, it is possible chocolate eaters have other characteristics making them healthier. Only a long-term randomized trial would tell if we should all be taking chocolate as part of our daily health regimen.
So, go ahead and enjoy come dark chocolate—but don’t go expecting a miracle cure. In the meantime, it won’t harm you, and it could be just what your body craves.