Everyone loves the taste of chocolate, but most people are unaware of its amazing health benefits. Cocoa contains polyphenols, which are rich in antioxidants and have an important nutritional value. Cocoa consumption can improve heart and blood vessel health and neurodegenerative diseases, make you happy, and give you great skin.
Read this post to learn more about the amazing health benefits of cocoa.
- Mechanisms of Action
- Health Benefits of Cocoa
- 1) Cocoa Lowers Blood Pressure
- 2) Cocoa Prevents Oxidative Stress
- 3) Cocoa May Improve Cognitive Function
- 4) Cocoa May Prevent Heart Disease
- 5) Cocoa Enhances Mood
- 6) Cocoa Reduces Constipation
- 7) Cocoa Reduces Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- 8) Cocoa May Treat Brain Disorders
- 9) Cocoa May Reduce Obesity
- 10) Cocoa Is Anti-Cancer
- 11) Cocoa Reduces Bad Cholesterol
- 12) Cocoa Improves Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
- 13) Cocoa Protects the Skin
- 14) Cocoa Protects the Teeth
- 15) Cocoa Helps the Lungs
- 16) Topical Cocoa may Help Heal Wounds
- 17) Cocoa Treats Copper Deficiency due to Tube Feeding
- 18) Cocoa Reduces Negative Effects of Magnesium Deficiency
- Cocoa Butter
- Adverse Effects
- Sources of Cocoa
- Other Sources of Polyphenols
- Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
For hundreds of years, cocoa has been used in body rituals and medicine throughout the world. Cocoa originated in the Americas and spread to Europe over time. Cocoa is used to reduce weight gain, fatigue, stimulate the nervous system, and improve digestive function, among others [R].
Interestingly, Panama is well-known for its cocoa consumption, and its population has better health and lower incidence of heart disease.
- Polyphenols – plant-derived compounds that protect against bacteria and UV rays. The most abundant polyphenols in cocoa are flavonoids, catechins, and epicatechins.
- Theobromine – plant-derived compound that has many important functions in heart, respiratory, and mouth health.
- Minerals – the most abundant minerals are magnesium, copper, and iron, all of which are important in overall health and body function.
Mechanisms of Action
Flavanols (a class of flavonoids) present in cocoa increase the production of nitric oxide (NO) by blood vessels (endothelial cells), which leads to widening of blood vessels, improving their function.
Health Benefits of Cocoa
1) Cocoa Lowers Blood Pressure
Consumption of cocoa has been proven to lower blood pressure [R].
A study of 15 healthy people showed that the higher the concentration of flavanols, the greater the effect of cocoa on reducing blood pressure. Those who consumed dark chocolate, which has a high concentration of flavonols, saw a much more significant impact than those who consumed white chocolate (without flavonols) [R].
A meta-analysis showed that those who consumed high amounts of flavanols saw a greater reduction in blood pressure than those who consumed little to no flavanols [R].
2) Cocoa Prevents Oxidative Stress
Polyphenols in cocoa are antioxidants that prevent free radicals from damaging cells [R].
3) Cocoa May Improve Cognitive Function
Cocoa flavonoids improve brain health and cognitive function through both direct and indirect mechanisms.
Flavonoids, mainly catechin and epicatechin, cross the blood-brain barrier and localize in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, which is where most neurodegeneration occurs [R].
A pilot study on 4 healthy young adults showed that cocoa flavanols also increase blood flow in the brain [R].
4) Cocoa May Prevent Heart Disease
A review showed that daily consumption of cocoa can increase nitric oxide (NO) circulation in the bloodstream and improve endothelial function [R].
5) Cocoa Enhances Mood
A pilot study on 48 healthy men and women revealed that consumption of cocoa enhances mood [R].
A review of several studies also showed the effects of chocolate on mood. Based on the evidence collected, cocoa and chocolate are effective in enhancing mood as well as relieving mental fatigue [R].
6) Cocoa Reduces Constipation
Cocoa husk is rich in dietary fiber, which helps keep the colon healthy.
A study (DB-RCT) on 48 constipated children revealed that cocoa, mainly cocoa husk, reduces constipation. Those that received the cocoa supplement reported quicker bowel movements, and fewer hard stools, compared to placebo [R].
A single-blind study of 44 healthy men and women suggested that regular consumption of cocoa results in a healthier bowel. Participants who consumed two servings of cocoa a day had faster, more frequent bowel movements, as well as softer stools [R].
7) Cocoa Reduces Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
A study (DB-RCT) showed that daily consumption of high concentrations of cocoa polyphenols reduced chronic fatigue syndrome, compared to placebo [R].
8) Cocoa May Treat Brain Disorders
Increased reactive oxidative species (ROS) play a role in the onset of brain disorders.
A pilot study also showed that catechins and epicatechins in cocoa prevent the toxicity and death of brain cells in rats [R].
9) Cocoa May Reduce Obesity
A study found that rats who were fed cocoa had less visceral fat. This may be due to the ability of cocoa to decrease the production of fats [R].
Another study showed that cocoa consumption in male mice reduced weight gain and the absorption of fat from the diet. Cocoa also reduced inflammation associated with obesity as well as improved insulin resistance [R].
10) Cocoa Is Anti-Cancer
Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is an enzyme present in normal cells that can lead to cancer if in excess. Cocoa flavanols and procyanidins reduce ODC activity, therefore reducing the risk of developing tumors, and can also kill colon cancer cells [R].
11) Cocoa Reduces Bad Cholesterol
A study (DB-RCT) on 48 people at-risk for heart disease and another study (DB-RCT) on 25 people with normal or slightly high cholesterol showed that consuming cocoa powder on a regular basis decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased HDL (good) cholesterol [R, R].
12) Cocoa Improves Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Studies have shown that consumption of polyphenols can improve diabetes. Cocoa polyphenols, especially from dark chocolate, improve glucose breakdown, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin resistance [R, R].
13) Cocoa Protects the Skin
The antioxidant properties of cocoa flavonols play an important role in skin health.
A study (DB-RCT) on 24 healthy women who consumed high amounts of cocoa flavanols concluded that cocoa flavanols provide protection from UV rays, improve blood circulation, and hydrate the skin making it softer and less scaling [R].
Another study (DB-RCT) on 11 smokers showed that the consumption of flavanols can reverse skin damage caused by smoking [R].
14) Cocoa Protects the Teeth
15) Cocoa Helps the Lungs
A review showed that theobromine relieves coughing in humans and guinea pigs, with less side effects that other remedies [R].
16) Topical Cocoa may Help Heal Wounds
Cocoa has long been used as a remedy for skin conditions such as burns and cuts. While there is not a lot of evidence for the topical use of cocoa products, a review of several studies showed that it promoted the regeneration of skin cells in pigs [R, R].
Cocoa also disinfects skin wounds and protects against harmful UV rays [R].
17) Cocoa Treats Copper Deficiency due to Tube Feeding
A similar study revealed that cocoa restored and maintained normal copper levels in deficient patients [R].
18) Cocoa Reduces Negative Effects of Magnesium Deficiency
A diet low in magnesium can result in magnesium deficiency, which produces adverse symptoms, such as a loss of muscle mass.
Cocoa is rich in magnesium. A pilot study on rats revealed that cocoa can increase magnesium levels and improve the symptoms of its deficiency [R].
Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from cocoa beans. Some of its components include the amino acids arginine and leucine, fatty acids, such as oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids, theobromine, and caffeine, among others [R].
Cocoa butter doesn’t contain the polyphenols and, therefore, doesn’t have the same effect as cocoa.
19) Cocoa Butter Reduces Cough
Cocoa butter is widely used to treat a cough, in combination with warm milk and honey. Cocoa butter can also be rubbed on the chest and back to reduce coughing.
20) Cocoa Butter May Reduce VLDL Cholesterol
VLDL cholesterol is the most unhealthy cholesterol-carrying protein as it contains the highest amount of fat (triglycerides). A pilot study revealed that rats that received cocoa butter had less VLDL cholesterol. This decrease can be attributed to a decrease in fat production or an increase in its removal [R].
21) Cocoa Butter May Improve the Skin
A pilot study on human skin showed that cocoa butter moderately increases the thickness of skin as well as collagen density. Results were better when cocoa butter was combined with cocoa polyphenols, compared to cocoa butter alone [R].
22) Cocoa Butter May Improve Kidney Function
People with food sensitivities can have negative reactions to cocoa, including Joe. It’s recommended that you exclude it from your diet in order to see if you react to it.
It should also be noted that while cocoa has many health benefits, the commercial chocolate and its products contain high amounts of sugar, fat, and additives, which are far from being healthy.
While cocoa has many health benefits, when consumed in high amounts, can cause some adverse effects:
- Too much cocoa can produce acne [R].
- Chocolate can cause migraines [R].
- Metals, such as nickel, that are present in cocoa can cause allergies, skin inflammation, and lesions [R].
Sources of Cocoa
- Cocoa can be obtained as cocoa beans, nibs, liquor, powder, and husk [R, R].
- It can be consumed as chocolate, including milk and dark chocolate (white chocolate doesn’t actually have cocoa) [R]. The higher the percentage of cocoa in chocolate, the more are its health benefits.
- Cocoa can also be supplemented in 500-mg capsules.
- It can also be used topically as or in combination with cocoa butter.
Other Sources of Polyphenols
Compared to other sources, dark chocolate has the highest amount (10–15 grams/kg) of flavonoids (proanthocyanidins) [R].
Other healthy polyphenols (with posts):
Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.
That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:
- Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
- SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
- SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
- SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
- Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
- Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
- Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
- BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
- SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics
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