Cocoa is high in antioxidants – in fact, it’s one of the richest sources of polyphenols in our diets. These have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, as well as improving cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
They also have a positive impact on blood flow and brain function. Flavanols influence the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes the muscles of blood vessels. This improves blood flow and blood supply to the brain.
Studies have shown that cocoa can enhance mental performance and brain health. There may also be a positive effect on those suffering with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, but more research is needed.
It’s important to remember that some cocoa is processed and heated which removes many of the beneficial properties. Chocolate that has been treated with alkaline loses 60% of flavanols too.
Cocoa contains the compounds theobromine and theophylline, which are anti-asthmatic. Theobromine may help reduce coughing, and theophylline helps the lungs to dilate and the airways to relax.
Animal studies have had promising results, but more research is needed to confirm whether cocoa could be beneficial for humans who suffer with asthma.
Studies indicate that the flavanols in cocoa can improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes, and even lower the risk of developing it. It may also reduce insulin sensitivity, improve blood sugar control, and reduce inflammation. However, there have been some conflicting results from studies so further research is needed.
As mentioned, cocoa boosts the level of nitric oxide in the blood, thus improving blood flow. It also reduces bad cholesterol, improves blood sugars, decreases inflammation, and lowers blood pressure. Because of these properties, it has been linked to a decreased risk of a heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Cocoa has the highest amount of flavanols per weight out of all foods. Test tube studies have shown that it can protect cells against damage, induce cancer cell death, and prevent the spread of cancer cells.
Animal studies have also shown positive results in reducing several types of cancers using a cocoa-rich diet. More research is needed to confirm whether the same results are possible with humans.
Mood and Depression
The effect cocoa has on the brain may also include improving mood and symptoms of depression. One study found that regular cocoa intake reduced stress levels in pregnant women. Another study in senior men showed that frequent chocolate consumption led to better overall health and improved psychological well-being. These results are promising, but more conclusive research is needed on the effects of cocoa on mood and depression.
Weight, Teeth & Skin
Cocoa may also help with controlling weight – even in the form of chocolate! It may help by regulating energy, reducing appetite and increasing the feeling of fullness.
A weight-loss study found that a group given 42g of 81% cocoa chocolate per day lost weight quicker than those who didn’t have the chocolate. Further studies are needed, but it seems that cocoa – or chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa may aid weight loss.
Cocoa may also be beneficial for teeth and skin. Many compounds found in cocoa are antibacterial, anti-enzymatic, and immune-stimulating. Animal studies have shown that cocoa had a positive effect on improving dental cavities in rats, however there are no significant human studies as of yet.
It’s also important to remember that many products that contain cocoa can also be high in sugar, which is detrimental to oral health.
Cocoa in chocolate is not the cause of acne or skin problems, in fact the polyphenols in cocoa have been found to be very beneficial for the skin. Long term benefits include protection against the sun, better circulation, and even improvements in the texture and hydration of skin!
So there you have it – if you stick to a good quality dark chocolate, it has many health benefits, including the potential to improve heart health, asthma, depression, dental health, weight, skin, and even cancer!