Of all the foods available on planet Earth, those produced from the bean of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) are the most magical, interesting, and delectable. Our long- standing love for chocolate is now being matched by scientific research on its health benefits when consumed in the right form.
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland has shown the consumption of dark chocolate can reduce the effects of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This study provides another strong reason to eat a moderate amount of dark chocolate each day to promote better health.
One of the key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption is its effect on cardiovascular disease. Much of the benefits are attributed to its high content of flavanols, a type of polyphenol – antioxidants found in foods like cocoa, tea, berries, and wine. A growing amount of recent research suggests that:
- Chocolate flavanols are especially important in protecting against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries.
- Chocolate flavanols prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots.
- Frequent chocolate consumption is associated with a nearly 40% reduced risk for heart disease and a 30% reduced risk for a stroke.
Another mechanism for chocolate flavanol consumption substantially lowering cardiovascular mortality may be its ability to dampen the stress response.
To evaluate the effect of dark chocolate to impact the stress response, healthy, non-smoking men, not taking any medication (20 to 50 years of age) were assigned to the experimental dark chocolate group (n = 31) or the placebo control group (n = 34).
The dark chocolate used (“Noir 72%”; Chocolat Frey AG, Buchs/Aargau, Switzerland) contained 281 calories and 125 mg of the flavanol epicatechin per serving of 50 grams. The placebo looked and tasted identical, but was actually a flavanol-free white chocolate that was dyed and flavored to match the color, appearance, and smell of the dark chocolate.
Two hours after chocolate ingestion, both groups underwent an acute stressful situation (standardized psychosocial stress task combining public speaking and mental arithmetic). Measurements of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) were taken prior to chocolate ingestion, before and several times after the stressful task. Plasma levels of the flavanol epicatechin were also determined.
Results showed that the dark chocolate group showed a significantly blunted reactivity of the peripheral adrenal gland hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline), as compared to the placebo group. The blunted reactivity of both these stress hormones related to higher plasma levels of epicatechin.
These results led the researchers to conclude that the flavanol-rich dark chocolate intake can help reduce the effects of stress on the body.
Without question, in the right form, chocolate is a true super food. I get my chocolate fix by having a big mug of hot cocoa nearly everyday by taking 3 tablespoons of organic Superfood Chocolate Hot Cacao Powder (click here) and 1 tablespoon of xylitol into my mug and then I add 12 ounces of decaffeinated coffee to it. I also regularly consume a small chunk of high flavanol content dark chocolate.
Wirtz PH, von Känel R, Meister RE, et al. Dark chocolate intake buffers stress reactivity in humans. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Jun 3;63(21):2297-9.