Living Well Blog: Saratoga's Holistic Health Forum

For the Love of Chocolate! (can't get enough of it)

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Why Do Women Crave Chocolate?

Chocolate lovers unite! An update on the power of chocolate is here! More studies are coming together to support this previously tagged "villain of indulgence" into a healthy supplement recommended by various professionals! Could it be that women knew this well-known secret intuitively for ages?

Chocolate and heart health:

An abstract from BMJ evaluated 4576 references, with seven studies meeting involving 114, 009 participants meeting inclusion data. The analysis included two independent analyzers and a third to reach consensus. Based on the studies analyzed, the researchers concluded that levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

Another summary in the journal Circulation supported the above metanalysis giving specific cardiometabolic measures that chocolate seemed to attenuate. Remember if it's good for your heart, it will also affect inflammation and blood sugar- the power triad in health! According to Circulation:

Indeed, recent research demonstrates a beneficial effect of cocoa on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and platelet function. Although still debated, a range of potential mechanisms through which cocoa might exert its benefits on cardiovascular health have been proposed, including activation of nitric oxide and antioxidant and antiinflammatory effects. This review summarizes the available data on the cardiovascular effects of cocoa, outlines potential mechanisms involved in the response to cocoa, and highlights the potential clinical implications associated with its consumption.

The mechanism behind these heart benefits may be due the flavonoid antioxidants that dark chocolate contains.  Antioxidants are powerful compounds that exist in foods, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, supplements, and plants which help disrupt excess free radicals from creating damage to your body. We naturally need some free radicals to help with the balance of breakdown and building in our body, but most people have an excess of inflammation and oxidative stress due to modern day living. According to an article in ScienceDaily:

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.

"Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax," Damp said. Further study is needed to know exactly which type of chocolate and how much of it is the most beneficial, but studies have shown that people who eat chocolate more than once a week have lower risks of heart disease and stroke compare to people who eat it less frequently. "Fat and calorie content of chocolate also needs to be taken into consideration and kept consistent with a healthy, balanced diet," Damp said.

Chocolate and the Brain

According to Brain Neurologist, Daniel Amen, MD:

What is good for your heart is good for your brain, so pay attention to this study. Although it didn't differentiate between dark chocolate and milk chocolate, I can tell you that dark chocolate contains more brain-friendly antioxidants than milk chocolate.

In a study reported by VitalChoice, a UEA team conducted a yearlong trial including 93 postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. Half of women were given two small placebo chocolate bars daily (poor things) and the other half were given the flavonoid-rick dark chocolate bars. The women continued their regular medications during the trial and 10 year follow up. The good news: 

The women in the test chocolate group were 3.4 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack in the next decade. This may sound like a small impact, but it would be considered a very substantial preventive effect for any "dietary intervention". Better yet, their insulin resistance and cholesterol levels were significantly lower than the control (placebo chocolate) group. As Dr. Cassidy said, "These results are significant from a public health perspective because they provide further concrete evidence that diet has a beneficial clinical effect over and above conventional drug treatment." (UEA 2012)

Another study showed the brain boosting of chocolate. The evaluation of chocolate, wine, and tea was studied in relationship cognitive performance amongst 2031 participants, 51% women.  The results showed a positive association between all three foods and cognitive performance, in a dose dependent matter!

Stress and Chocolate

Is it the naturally occurring magnesium that calms the brain, the arginine and and other amino acid profile that can build mood supporting neurotransmitters, or the dilatory effects of the theobromine content that bring oxygen to our brain, that explain why chocolate may calm our stressers? It's not conclusive, but the fact that chocolate helps mood can be unscientifically validated by any woman. Now, research is echoing our drive for chocolate:

The "chocolate cure" for emotional stress is getting new support from a clinical trial published online in ACS' Journal of Proteome Research. It found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Everyone's favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

A Cautionary Word

All these positive effects of chocolate! Still, don't go too crazy on processed milk chocolate bars! The studies are all using dark, unprocessed cocoa that has high flavonoid content. Milk chocolate does not contain the beneficial content of these flavonoids and can be full of ingredients that many are sensitive to, such as milk, sugar,  and gluten.

Remember to also check out my latest blog at www.dr-lobisco.com! 

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Reisa Mehlman

As a New York State Licensed Aesthetician, New York State Licensed Nail Specialist, and the Director of Living Well Healing Arts Center & Spa, Reisa combines her love of spa services and healing arts to achieve optimum skin and nail health, create greater overall wellness and bring forth our optimal, individual beauty.

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Dr. Sarah LoBisco has been involved in wellness for over 8 years. Her experience includes mentoring with holistic practices throughout New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. Read more...