In the News: The Benefits of Cocoa

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There have been a lot of articles of the past few years about the potential benefits of dark chocolate, mostly relating to antioxidants and anti-depressants. Some studies show that cocoa (and by extension dark and milk chocolates) contains more antioxidant power than foods such as prunes and blueberriesThe British company SEEK is working on a cough remedy based on a compound found in chocolate called theobromine. This compound inhibits “inappropriate firing of the vagus nerve,” a problem with persistent coughs.  The new drug is intended to replace opiate-based cough drugs, which should not be consumed by individuals under the age of 18.  

Another health benefit that has been linked to chocolate since the 18th century is increased cardiovascular health. A recent study takes this connection further, proposing that regular consumption of cocoa in large quantities may protect people from stroke, heart attack, cancer and diabetes–four of the top five common killer diseases in Western culture. 

Cocoa beans may reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer and diabetes.
Photo by Julian Walker/ Courtesy

Dr. Hollenberg’s research focuses on the Kuna people of Panama, whose risk of these diseases is less than 10 percent. Upon observation of Kuna who had migrated, Hellenberg established that it was the consumption of cocoa (the Panama Kuna drink approximately 40 cups of natural cocoa per week), and specifically the consumption epicatechin, a compound found to be abundant in natural cocoa. Hollenberg’s study lends further evidence to at least two other studies. A Netherlands study in February 2006 found that men over the age of 65 who consumed cocoa regularly had significantly lower blood pressure and were less likely to die of any cause than their counterparts, even with factors such as weight, lifestyle, alcohol consumption and fitness taken into account. A more recent study in 2010 demonstrated that doses of epicatechin could protect the brain during or shortly after a stroke. 

Unfortunately, this is not implicit permission eat your body weight in dark chocolate as a health measure. According to Dr. Sylcian Dore of John Hopkins University School of Medicine, “The epicatechin found in dark chocolate is extremely sensitive to changes in heat and light. In the process of making chocolate, you have to make sure you don’t destroy it. Only few chocolates have the active ingredient. The fact that it says ‘dark chocolate’ is not sufficient.” 

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