What Are the Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate?
Chocolate is rich in
in the flavonol family, substances similar to those found in
, red wine, grapes,
and other potentially healthful foods. However, this alone is not enough to prove that chocolate provides any health benefits. In gigantic studies of other strong antioxidants, such as
, none of the hoped-for benefits materialized. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and for chocolate few have been performed. (For information on why such studies are essential, see
Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies?
Nonetheless, some potential benefits have been seen in preliminary trials. A
of 20 males with mild
compared the effects of 100 g daily of a flavonol-rich dark chocolate as compared to a flavonol-free white chocolate.
Results appeared to indicate that the dark chocolate produced improvements in blood pressure. A subsequent study of similar design, this one enrolling 44 people with mild hypertension, found that a much lower dose of dark chocolate (6.3 g daily), also significantly reduced blood pressure levels.
A review including several additional studies drew the same conclusion regarding chocolate’s modest yet favorable effect on blood pressure.
A larger analysis of 20 trials studied 856 patients with and without hypertension. The trials compared flavonol-rich cocoa products to low or non-flavonol foods for an average of 4 weeks. Cocoa was found to significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in 20 trials and diastolic blood pressure in 19 trials.
Chocolate has also shown some promise for improving
. In one study, 57 people with high cholesterol were given either a standard snack bar or a snack bar enriched with cocoa flavanols.
Over 6 weeks, the results appeared to indicate that cocoa improved cholesterol levels to a greater extent than placebo.
Two other preliminary studies found evidence that consumption of chocolate can improve levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
A review of several observational studies of 20,951 healthy adults found those with
a habitual, high intake of chocolate (16-99 g daily) had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to those who did not eat chocolate. Cardiovascular disease was defined as a fatal or non-fatal cardiovascular event, stroke, or coronary artery disease.
Similar results were found in multiple reviews that included 144,823 adults. Consumption of 3-4 servings a weeks of chocolate was associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease. The type of chocolate and the amount consumed per week were not identified.15
One double-blind study failed to find that flavanol-rich cocoa improved blood vessel health in people with established cardiovascular disease.
Besides flavonols, chocolate contains a fat called stearic acid. Although it is a saturated fat, stearic acid is hypothesized to have cardiovascular-preventive benefits. However, this is not yet proven.
Like other antioxidants, consumption of high flavonol cocoa might also offer some protection to the skin from UV damage.
This could, in theory, help prevent
, reduce symptoms of
and help prevent
age-related skin changes
. However, the benefits would be small compared to standard sunblock.
An unpublished double-blind study (available only in the form of a press release) reportedly found that dark chocolate is helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome.
The theobromine in cocoa, besides being a stimulant, might also have a
In studies, the typical daily dose of flavanols from chocolate thought to offer a beneficial effect range widely from 30 to 500 mg per day.
The flavanol content of chocolate itself also varies widely. White chocolate contains little to no flavanols, commercial dark chocolate can contain as much as 500-2,000 mg of flavonols per 100 grams of chocolate. Special flavonol-enriched forms of chocolate are also available.
As a widely consumed food, chocolate is assumed to have a high safety factor. However, because of its caffeine and theobromine content, it would be expected to have potential side effects similar to those of coffee and
, namely: heartburn, gastritis, insomnia, anxiety, and heart arrhythmias (benign palpitations or more serious disturbances of heart rhythm.)
All drug interactions that can occur with caffeine would be expected to occur with chocolate as well.
Most chocolate products are high in calories, and therefore could lead to weight gain.