Chocolate & Cocoa Benefits?
Chocolate & Cocoa:
'Healthy' Benefits, or Negative Health Effects?
Is Chocolate a food of the gods because of its divine taste and Health Benefits,
or is it because heavenly bodies don't have to worry about its Health Hazards?
Stories on the Health Benefits of consuming Cocoa Products have increasingly made the news, following the
discovery that they are a rich source of catechins, which are polyphenols of the flavanol group, and which are
believed to protect against heart disease, cancer, and various other medical conditions.
Chocolate manufacturers, retailers, and the media have been taking advantage of these findings by not only
trying to make chocolate lovers feel less guilty about their addiction, but also by trying to target more health-
conscious consumers with regular doses of "research studies" praising the supposed health benefits of
consuming (dark) chocolate, among them that:
• eating chocolate does not trigger migraine headaches,
• eating chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.
• eating chocolate does not give someone acne or other skin eruptions,
• eating chocolate boosts one's appetite, but does not cause weight gain,
• eating moderate amounts of chocolate makes one live almost a year longer,
• eating chocolate releases endorphins in the brain, which act as pain-relievers,
• the sugar in chocolate may have a calming and pain relieving effect.
How reliable are all these "Studies?"
When taking a closer look, one discovers that once the studies funded by chocolate interest groups were
discarded, the ones left offered conflicting results. As expected, some isolated compounds in cocoa did
however show certain health benefits. Because it is a common practice in nutritional research to do studies
on food fractions, outcomes may sometimes appear negative because they are done without any co-factors
or "Whole-Food" nutrients. However in the case of cocoa, some of the research was positive because all the
detrimental ingredients in chocolate - and their negative health effects - were not part of the study.
If people were to consume pure cocoa, they might indeed be able to enjoy a few health benefits, including a
positive effect on blood pressure  and glucose metabolism, however the majority of people eat processed
chocolate with all the other less desirable ingredients (i.e. added sugar, corn syrup, milk fats / dairy cream,
hydrogenated oils, etc.), and where the actual cocoa content may be less than 20%, so unless premium dark
chocolate is consumed, and one does not suffer from copper overload (see further below), all bets regarding
chocolate being healthy are off.
With claims made of sugar having a "pain-relieving" effect (babies fed a sucrose solution felt less pain from
needles), it is doubtful that we will see chocolate bars replacing conventional analgesics any time soon, nor
are these same "researchers" making these sugar-promoting claims likely going to reach for a chocolate bar
next time they suffer from a throbbing toothache, a pounding headache, or a kidney stone attack.
While cocoa and sugar do not "cause" acne, the sugar present in chocolate will most certainly make acne,
or any other acne-like skin eruptions worse, as anyone suffering from these skin conditions can attest to.
Placebo-controlled trials showed that some of the chemicals in chocolate (phenylethylamine, theobromine,
or caffeine), can indeed trigger migraines by altering cerebral blood flow and releasing norepinephrine in
some of those prone to suffer from migraine headaches. Of all of the foods isolated that triggered the most
attacks, chocolate was an offender about 30% of the time. Claiming that "eating moderate amounts of
chocolate increases one's life span" is a most interesting example of how some "researchers" will twist and
manipulate statistics to prove anything!
"Chocolate-Is-Good-For-You" campaigns through the media or
the prominent placement of leaflets at confectionery counters keep
feeding the consumer "made-to-order" research results whose out-
come is pre-determined to satisfy an agenda (i.e. selling chocolate),
with little relevance to science or facts. Considering that tobacco
has also shown some health benefits, particularly with ulcerative
colitis and Parkinson's disease, would this be a reason to entice
people to start smoking?
From a nutritional perspective - the average milk chocolate product is no less a junk food than ice cream
or donuts, and it is equally unhealthy and fattening when large amounts are consumed on a regular basis.
While no one is trying to discourage people from enjoying an occasional chocolate treat - selling chocolate
on the premises of providing health benefits, and urging consumers to increase their chocolate consumption
for "Health Reasons" leaves nutritional research less than credible, particularly when diabetes and obesity
have become an out-of-control global problem.
The good news is, premium grade dark chocolate contains only cocoa butter, a fat that naturally occurs in
cocoa beans, which is made up of stearic acid (34%), oleic acid (34%), palmitic acid (25%), and the rest of
other fatty acids, whereby the combined effect of all the fats found in cocoa butter is quite neutral in regard
to an individual's lipid (heart disease risk) profile. However, when milk chocolate, or lower grade chocolate is
consumed, part of the total fat content of chocolate comes from milk fat or various other types of fat, which
offer no extra health benefits, but instead create a risk factor with cardiovascular disease.
Despite the good news on cocoa not raising LDL cholesterol, even dark chocolate is a very calorie-dense
food, so while the fat content may not invite cardiovascular disease from an atherogenic (arterial clogging)
perspective, its regular consumption will add a lot of extra calories to someone's daily total, and as a result
still affect those who have to watch their caloric intake. Nevertheless, being listed as the No.1 ingredient in
many chocolate products, sugar is unquestionably a worse culprit compared to the fat content when
addressing the effect of chocolate on someone's overall health.
Sugar is a well-known cause, contributing, or aggravating factor with a host of medical conditions, including
heart disease, inflammatory conditions, immune system disorders, impaired phagocytosis, mood disorders,
insulin and blood sugar disorders, leukemia, tooth decay, yeast infections, depletion of essential nutrients,
Cocoa products also contain pharmacological substances such as n-acylethanolamines that are related
to cannabis (marijuana), they contain stimulants such as phenylethylamine, which have an anti-depressant
and amphetamine-like effect; and they contain compounds that stimulate the brain to release an opiate-like
substance called anandamide. When drugs are used to block the brain's opiate receptors, the desire for
chocolate (and other sweet and fatty foods) disappears -- confirming the addictive nature of these types
But despite cocoa being such an opiate and endorphin-releasing pharmacological powerhouse, who would
have guessed that when chocoholics were given cocoa in capsules - without the added fat and sugar, and
without the feel of chocolate melting in their mouths - it had no satisfying effect at all!
However, while eating the actual chocolate bar satisfied the cravings for it, studies showed that there was no
improvement with mood, relaxation, feeling content, depression, or guilt, after eating chocolate.
The health benefits of polyphenols are easily demonstrated in a test-tube environment, however cocoa also
provides a considerable amount of Copper, which inhibits the action of Hesperidin, which is an essential
flavanone (see also "Bioflavonoids"). Although some foods contain higher levels of copper by weight, the
copper in coffee and cocoa products is much more bioavailable (absorbed and used) compared to that from
other higher-level sources. High copper activity increases the risk for vascular degeneration such as varicose
veins, hemorrhoids, aneurysms, bruising, heart disease, and stroke.
While low copper levels can be implicated with weak and fragile blood vessels also, high copper levels
are much more common in many parts of the world, with nearly 90% of patients tested exhibiting a chemical
profile that - in addition to their own unique chemistry - contained an underlying pattern showing the inhibiting
effect of copper overload on various nutrients, which include Vitamin C, hesperidin, chromium, molybdenum,
nickel, sulfur, and others.
The additional consumption of high copper sources such as chocolate and cocoa products, cola drinks,
coffee, (as well as shellfish, liver, soy products, and some nuts and seeds), not only aggravates many high
copper-related medical conditions, but it is responsible for creating new ones. At the same time, copper
is an important co-factor for angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation in cancer), with most types of
malignant or benign tumors, hemangiomas, fibroids, etc., being associated with elevated copper levels.
Dark, bitter chocolate has the highest catechin content, but at the same time has also the highest copper
level. Light or milk chocolate has the lowest copper level, but also the lowest catechin content.
What about the Cancer and Heart-protective attributes of Catechins,
which Chocolate products have become increasingly associated with?
* Risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, joint degeneration, and others.
The health benefits gained by following a high flavonoid intake, and the resulting decrease of some medical
problems is eventually offset by steadily increasing copper levels, which will inhibit flavonoid activity, and
which will over time promote an increase in these very same medical conditions!
The high sugar content in chocolate increases Chromium requirements (chromium is an associated trace
mineral to copper). The resulting high copper / low chromium ratio creates an increased risk for trabecular
bone loss, and it can trigger or worsen blood sugar-related, and/or inflammatory conditions that may raise
the risk or incidence of chronic tonsil infections, recurring bladder infections, some forms of arthritis, or
similar problems of the immune system in prone individuals.
By lowering Sulfur, high copper levels are a common cause or aggravating factor of osteoarthritis, for which
some people take glucosamine sulfate or MSM supplements. If successful, they partly work by counteracting
high copper levels and thus help to reverse or slow cartilage or joint degeneration. Other than the effect of
chocolate on an individual's mood, elevated copper levels - by inhibiting sulfur - can adversely affect memory
and concentration, so progressive copper storage as a result of long-term high copper intake, combined with
increasingly diminishing sulfur levels can eventually contribute to, or lead to mental impairment or dementia.
Chocolate contains theobromine and a small amount of caffeine, both being stimulants and members of the
methylxanthine family. Although it increases alertness, theobromine doesn't have the same jittery effect on
the heart like caffeine. However, theobromine can be toxic or even lethal to domestic animals such as
dogs, cats, parrots and horses as a result of affecting their kidneys, heart, and central nervous system.
Another health risk and concern - particularly for young children - are the high Lead concentrations in cocoa
and chocolate products, which according to the Environmental Health Perspectives (2005) , are supposed
to be one of the highest reported for all food items, although there have been challenges to these claims.
From a clinical perspective, and putting aside the commercial hype that has been created of late to boost the
image of chocolate - people with the highest intake of chocolate either end up with excessive copper levels,
or elevated VLDL triglycerides (from all that sugar). On average, most chocoholic patients test high in both.
As is the case with other sweets - anything beyond a casual consumption of chocolate will result in reduced,
not improved health, without even going into some more immediate health concerns that some individuals
experience from consuming chocolate, such as allergic reactions, chronic mucus / sinus problems, heartburn,
esophageal reflux (GERD), kidney stones, fibrocystic breast disease, migraine headaches, or aggravated PMS.
Nevertheless - in moderation - chocolate can certainly be the Sinful Delight it was meant to be! ¤
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