Cacao benefits–both medical and economical–have been commended for centuries. Ancient Mayan cultures and Spanish royalties incorporated cacao in their daily lives, either as a tonic drink or currency.
Today, we will share with you ten more medical benefits of cacao both for physical and mental well-being.
Physical and Psychological Cacao Benefits
Lowers risk of cardiovascular diseases and cardiac mortality
Cacao is rich in flavonoids, which are known for their cardioprotective effects. Cocoa, a cacao substance, is said to promote the bioavailability of endothelial nitric oxide, which regulates the dilation of blood vessels resulting in the decrease of blood pressure.
Studies from different countries prove that cacao and its derivatives are beneficial for the heart and the blood vessels.
In the Netherlands, researchers gathered data of 470 elderly men, comparing their blood pressure, cocoa consumption, and cause of death at baseline then 5 and 15 years later. The study found that the more cocoa intake these men have, the lower their blood pressure and less likely they are to die of cardiac problems.
Researchers in Sweden have a similar finding. They followed 1,169 patients with myocardial infarction for eight years. Those who consumed chocolate at least twice per week were less at risk of cardiac mortality.
A larger group of people were studied in the US, comparing their chocolate consumption and the prevalence of calcified atherosclerosis plaque in their body. The study found that “There was an inverse association between frequency of chocolate consumption and prevalent CAC.
The high concentration of flavonoids in cacao has antiinflammatory properties as well.
The researchers in a study involving almost 11,000 subjects found that eating chocolate regularly in small doses lessens the level of serum CRP or C-reactive protein in the body. The level of CRP in the body determines whether there is inflammation or not. An increase in CRP indicates inflammation. These results were determined after adjusting other variables such as age, physical activity, gender.
Reduces risk of diabetes
Per 100g of chocolate, there is 12.5mg of caffeine, and caffeine, according to previous studies, reduces the risk of diabetes.
To prove, a study in Japan involving more than 13,000 participants, men and women, found that “The consumption of chocolate snacks was inversely associated with a risk of diabetes among men, and the association was also implied among women.”
However, the researchers warned against premature reliance on chocolate to reduce the risk of diabetes. While the study in question shows a promising result regarding chocolate and diabetes prevention, the researchers admit that it needs further evaluation.
Another study supporting this claim includes 14 overweight and obese individuals. The sample was given 20g of dark chocolate containing either 500mg or 1000mg of polyphenols for two weeks. The study found that both doses are equally effective in reducing fasting blood glucose.
Improve insulin sensitivity
Flavanols in cacao are the same compounds to thank for for increased insulin sensitivity. One of the studies proving this is conducted in Italy. It involves 19 hypertensive samples, who were given either white chocolate or high-polyphenol dark chocolate for 15 days. Those who consumed the latter had increased insulin sensitivity.
Another study involving 49 overweight and obese individuals who were asked to consume with low-flavanol or high-flavanol chocolate for 12 weeks concluded that the latter decreased their insulin resistance by 0.31%.
Theoretically reduces cancer risk.
We used the word theoretically here because there are no clinical trials conducted on humans. Nonetheless, several studies involving mice prove that the antioxidant properties of cacao can prevent carcinogenesis or the onset of cancer. The procyanidins and catechins found in cacao prevent oxidative damage to our DNA and inflammation, which, by the way, is why cacao is beneficial for our immune system.
Oxidative damage caused by the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants can lead to several illnesses including cancer.
Benefits the central nervous system
Our neurons can get inflamed due to neurological conditions. But because one of the benefits of cacao is its ability to prevent inflammation in our body, it means our neurons gain from it as well. One study concludes:
The antioxidant properties of catechin and epicatechin derivatives [in cacao] can protect from neuronal injury and neuroinflammation implicated in the pathogenesis a number of neurological conditions.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/
These antioxidants not only prevent neuroinflammation but also enhance memory and increases cerebral blood flow.
Protects the skin from sun damage
We may have come across cocoa butter in skin moisturizers. But cacao benefits extend beyond that. Besides being a beneficial topical agent, cocoa flavanols, when ingested, are reported to protect our skin as well.
The flavonoids inhibit oxidation, improve blood flow, and oxygen saturation. All of which contribute to skin protection from UV light.
Has a favorable risk/benefit profile for obese individuals
We have all been told that chocolate makes us fat. However, some studies to date are challenging that.
One premise they bank on is the fact that once the fatty part is extracted from cacao, it can barely contribute to weight gain. Plus, “there is reason to believe that cocoa consumption may induce favorable metabolic changes through its effects on NO availability or lipid metabolism” provided that moderate consumption is observed, says one journal article.
Moreover, some studies show that the smell of cocoa is enough to reduce appetite and increase fullness.
Improves psychological well being
Cacao benefits are not limited to our physiology. In a study involving 860 men, those who prefer chocolate as their snack or dessert are reportedly psychologically better–they are less lonely, happier, have plans for their future, and scored lower in the Zung depression score. Overall, these chocolate-loving cohort reported better optimism and self-rated health. It is not yet established whether the flavanols in cocoa have antidepressant effects.
Lifts your mood
We don’t have to be eating chocolate for a prolonged period for us to appreciate its psychological effects. Studies show that chocolate’s palatability instantly lifts our mood after ingesting it. This result may be short-lived, but it’s comforting to know that there’s an instant mood lifter we can rely on any time.