Chocolate was treasured as a bitter, invigorating elixir by the ancient peoples of Central America, but it’s only now that scientists can sort out the beneficial compounds involved and distill them into supplement form.
Few foods stir the passions or evoke pleasurable responses more than chocolate. Who among us has not comforted ourselves with a dish of chocolate ice cream? Or tried to relieve stress with a cup of hot cocoa? Or sought an energy boost in the form of a chocolate bar?
Chocolate is a guilty pleasure most of us indulge in at least once in a while.
But maybe we don't have to feel so guilty.
The good news – Researchers are discovering that our natural inclination to reach for chocolate when we're depressed or need an infusion of energy has scientific validity. They have uncovered some significant health benefits associated with the complex chemistry of chocolate - including compounds supporting improvements in:
• The release of energy (even in a trial involving people with chronic fatigue syndrome)
• Fat burning
• Mood, anxiety, stress
• Concentration and alertness
• And cardiovascular health.
The bad news – Because pure chocolate is bitter and all but impossible to eat, additional ingredients like milk and sugar are added to make it more palatable. Unfortunately, the added ingredients that make it so tasty can also cause weight gain and increase blood sugar levels, thereby counteracting many of its health benefits.
The solution – There is a natural and safe chocolate supplement - ChocoLift™ by Source Naturals - that can provide the health benefits of chocolate on a daily basis without all the sugar, fat, calories and guilt that accompany eating chocolate candy.
The Tasty Origins of Chocolate
The exact time and place where the source of chocolate, the cacao tree, was first cultivated remains a mystery. Archeologists think it was discovered by either the Olmec or the Mayan civilization around 1000 BC in the corridor of land we now know as Central America. Because the cacao tree requires a tropical mix of high rain fall, high year-round temperatures and high humidity, then as now, it can only be grown in geographical areas approximately 20 degrees either side of the Equator.
Chocolate comes from the beans of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Because the Mayans considered cacao to be of divine origin, the tree's scientific name comes from a combination of the Greek word theobroma, meaning “food of the gods,” and the Mayan word cacao, meaning “god food.”
Aztec Emperor Montezuma II was a great lover of cocoa, describing it as:
“The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” - Hernán Cortés, 1519
Montezuma also regarded cocoa as an aphrodisiac and was said to drink it 50 times a day from a golden goblet.
The cacao bean was so prized by the Aztecs that they used it as currency rather than silver and gold. In fact, after Cortés and his conquistadors defeated Montezuma and searched his palace expecting to find gold and silver, all they found was a huge quantity of cacao beans. The rest of the world was first introduced to what we now call cocoa or chocolate when Cortés returned to Spain with some of their prized cacao beans in 1519.
The Science of Chocolate
Over the last dozen or so years, there has been a steady stream of scientific research demonstrating the multiple health benefits of cocoa and the confection made from it, chocolate. Following are a few examples of what scientists say chocolate may do for your body.
Theobromine is the primary alkaloid in chocolate responsible for its energy-boosting properties. Theobromine has been shown to stimulate the central nervous system for the release of energy. Chocolate also contains a small amount of caffeine - significantly less than in brewed coffee - that also aids in energy production.
A 2010 double blinded, randomized, clinical crossover pilot study investigated the effect of polyphenol rich chocolate in subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Ten subjects (6 females, 4 males) received either high cocoa liquor / polyphenol rich chocolate (HCL/PR) or simulated iso-calorific chocolate (cocoa liquor free / low polyphenols (CLF/LP)) for 8 weeks, with a 2-week wash out period, followed by 8 weeks of the other type of chocolate.
The results of the study were that:
• The Chalder Fatigue Scale scores improved significantly after 8 weeks for subjects in the HCL/PR chocolate arm, but deteriorated significantly later, when they were given simulated iso-calorific chocolate.
• The residual function, as assessed by the London Handicap scale, also improved significantly after the HCL/PR arm and deteriorated after iso-calorific chocolate. (Rehab specialists use this multi-factor scale to assess functionality.)
• The Hospital Anxiety and Depression score improved as well after the HCL/PR arm, but deteriorated after CLF/CP.
In addition, the researchers reported:
“Anecdotally, two subjects were able to return to work after having had their symptoms for a 2-year period and chose to continue on a high cocoa solid chocolate diet…. This study suggests that HCL/PR chocolate may improve symptoms in subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome.”(1)
To see a video reviewing this study, click here.
Support Brain Function:
Chocolate contains a number of methylxanthine alkaloids, including theobromine. Methylxanthines are highly fat-soluble molecules that are very bioavailable and easily absorbed in the stomach and intestine. Once in the bloodstream, these alkaloids quickly cross the blood-brain barrier and act as a stimulant for the brain, helping to improve alertness and cognition.
In a 2009 Harvard study, researchers looked at whether cocoa flavanols could support improved brain blood flow.
The suggestion being that long-term improvements in brain blood flow could impact cognitive behavior, offering future potential for debilitating brain conditions including dementia and stroke.
Thirty-four adults between the ages of 59 and 83 took part in this study. Transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasound was used to measure mean blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery in response to the regular intake of flavanol-rich cocoa or flavanol-poor cocoa.
The scientists found that study participants who regularly drank a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage [providing 900mg of flavanols daily] had an 8% increase in brain blood flow after one week, and a 10% increase in brain blood flow after two weeks.
In their conclusion, the researchers said:
“In summary, we show that dietary intake of flavanol-rich cocoa is associated with a significant increase in cerebral blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery as measured by TCD. Our data suggest a promising role for regular cocoa flavanol’s consumption in the treatment of cerebrovascular ischemic syndromes, including dementias and stroke.”(2)
The reason we tend to think of chocolate as a “comfort food,” often using it to comfort ourselves when we're feeling down, can be explained by its biochemistry. Chocolate activates the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. When dopamine is released, it stimulates feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and promotes the release of serotonin in the brain, which also stimulates feelings of calm and satisfaction.
In a 2009 clinical trial, investigators studied the metabolic responses of 30 free-living subjects, who were classified as low or high anxiety, to a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] of dark chocolate for up to 14 days.
Urine and blood plasma were collected at the beginning, middle and end of the two-week study to analyze global changes in metabolism due to the chocolate consumption. At the end of the two weeks, the scientists found that eating the chocolate regularly had resulted in:
• Reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.
• A reduction of urinary excretion of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines.
• Partial normalization of stress-related differences in energy metabolism.
The researchers concluded:
“The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] of dark chocolate during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers.”(3)
Promote Cardiovascular Health:
Chocolate is especially rich in polyphenols, a group of protective antioxidant compounds. One group of polyphenols in chocolate of particular interest to scientists is flavonols. These naturally-occurring substances help protect the cells of our bodies from premature destruction
In addition, the polyphenols in chocolate have two other cardioprotective functions: They help to reduce the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and they inhibit blood platelets from clumping together.
In 2011, Harvard scientists conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 24 randomized, controlled trials with a total of 1106 participants to evaluate the effect of flavonoid-rich cocoa on cardiovascular risk factors.
They found that the daily intake of flavonoid-rich cocoa resulted in:
• A decrease in systolic blood pressure.
• A decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol.
• An increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.
• A decrease in insulin resistance.
• An increase in flow-mediated vascular dilation.
The researchers concluded:
“Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption significantly improves blood pressure, insulin resistance, lipid profiles, and flow-mediated vascular dialation.”(4)
Dr. Andrew Weil, a leader in the field of integrative medicine, also touts the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate:
“The latest news about chocolate - that it makes blood vessels more flexible -adds to accumulating evidence that chocolate offers a number of health benefits and may be good for the heart. Earlier findings had shown that chocolate contains polyphenols, the same kinds of antioxidants found in red wine and green tea; stearic acid, a type of fat that doesn't raise cholesterol levels; and flavonoids, which reduce the stickiness of platelets, inhibiting blood clotting and reducing the danger of coronary artery blockages.”(5)
To Eat or To Supplement...
Should you eat chocolate every day or take a supplement containing chocolate? Although eating chocolate certainly is a pleasurable sensory experience for most of us, we have to remember that the chocolate we eat also contains a lot of sugar, fat and calories. And some contend that the processing procedure chocolate goes through before it gets to the consumer destroys many of its healthful properties.
While enjoying a piece of chocolate - preferably dark chocolate - from time to time is usually fine unless you have a health condition that prohibits it, but eating a quantity of chocolate every day is not advisable. The best way to get the health benefits of chocolate without risking weight gain and high blood sugar is to take a supplement like ChocoLift™ that gives you a pure chocolate bean extract with no added sugar or fat.
Safety: An independent expert panel has declared self-affirmed GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status for Chocamine® Plus, the proprietary cocoa extract blend used in ChocoLift™.
Dosage: Suggested dosage is one 500mg capsule one to two times a day.
Contraindications: ChocoLift contains 40 mg of caffeine per capsule, which is approximately equivalent to half the amount of caffeine found in one cup (8 oz.) of brewed coffee. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking a prescription drug, consult with your health care professional before using.
Chocolate offers a number of potential health benefits such as promoting increased energy, supporting brain function, reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting cardiovascular health. ChocoLift supplements provide the health benefits of chocolate without the sugar, fat and calories found in chocolate candy.
* Supplement research reporter Karen Lee Richards is HealthCentral's chronic pain Health Guide specializing in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS (www.HealthCenter.com/Chronic-Pain)
1. Sathyapalan T, et al. High cocoa polyphenol rich chocolate may reduce the burden of the symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:55.
2. Sorond FA, et al. Cerebral blood flow response to flavanol-rich cocoa in healthy elderly humans. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 April; 4(2): 433–440.
3. Martin, FJ, et al. Metabolic effects of dark chocolate consumption on energy, gut microbiota, and stress-related metabolism in free-living subject. J. Proteome Res., 2009, 8 (12), pp 5568–5579.
4. Shrime MG, et al. Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption affects multiple cardiovascular risk factors in a meta-analysis of short-term studies. J Nutr. 2011 Nov;141(11):1982-8.
5. Weil, A. (2004, December 09). Ask Dr. Weil. Retrieved from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA347715
Note: this information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general information; is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any condition, illness or disease; and is not meant to take the place of a physician's personal attention and advice. It is very important that you make no change in your health care plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.