Made from the beans of the cocoa tree, chocolate was first developed as a food in South America, where it was primarily consumed as a bitter beverage. Cocoa was not combined with sugar until the Spaniards brought chocolate back to Europe. The Latin name of the plant is Theobroma cocoa . "Theobroma" means food of the gods. Because of this, one of the stimulant substances in chocolate is named theobromine; this caffeine-related substance does not contain the element bromine.
What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate?
Chocolate is rich in antioxidants
Nonetheless, some potential benefits have been seen in preliminary trials. A
Chocolate has also shown some promise for improving
One double-blind study failed to find that flavanol-rich cocoa improved blood vessel health in people with established cardiovascular disease.
Besides flavonols, chocolate contains a fat called stearic acid. Although it is a saturated fat, stearic acid is hypothesized to have cardiovascular-preventive benefits. However, this is not yet proven.
Like other antioxidants, consumption of high flavonol cocoa might also offer some protection to the skin from UV damage.
An unpublished double-blind study (available only in the form of a press release) reportedly found that dark chocolate is helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome.
In studies, the typical daily dose of flavanols from chocolate thought to offer a beneficial effect range widely from 30 to 500 mg per day.
The flavanol content of chocolate itself also varies widely. White chocolate contains little to no flavanols, commercial dark chocolate can contain as much as 500-2,000 mg of flavonols per 100 grams of chocolate. Special flavonol-enriched forms of chocolate are also available.
As a widely consumed food, chocolate is assumed to have a high safety factor. However, because of its caffeine and theobromine content, it would be expected to have potential side effects similar to those of coffee and
, namely: heartburn, gastritis, insomnia, anxiety, and heart arrhythmias (benign palpitations or more serious disturbances of heart rhythm.)
Most chocolate products are high in calories, and therefore could lead to weight gain.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking:
1. Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C et al. Cocoa Reduces Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance and Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasodilation in Hypertensives. Hypertension. 2005 Jul 18. [Epub ahead of print]
3. Farouque HM, Leung M, Hope SA et al. Acute and chronic effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in subjects with coronary artery disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Clin Sci (Lond) . 2006 Mar 22. [Epub ahead of print]
4. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H et al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136:1565-1569.
7. Polagruto JA, Wang-Polagruto JF, Braun MM, et al. Cocoa Flavanol-Enriched Snack Bars Containing Phytosterols Effectively Lower Total and Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels. J Am Diet Assoc . 2006;106:1804-1813.
8. Health Benefits of Chocolate Revealed. Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust website. Available at: http://www.hey.nhs.uk/pdf/media/chocolate.pdf . Accessed December 21, 2006.
10. Baba S, Natsume M, Yasuda A, et al. Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder. J Nutr. 2007;137:1436-1441.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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