Everyone loves the taste of chocolate, but most people are unaware of its amazing health benefits. Cocoa contains polyphenols, which are rich in antioxidants and have an important nutritional value. Cocoa consumption can improve heart and blood vessel health and neurodegenerative diseases, make you happy, and give you great skin.
Read this post to learn more about the amazing health benefits of cocoa.
What is Cocoa?
For hundreds of years, cocoa has been used in body rituals and medicine throughout the world. Cocoa originated in the Americas and spread to Europe over time. Cocoa is used to reduce weight gain, fatigue, stimulate the nervous system, and improve digestive function, among others .
Interestingly, Panama is well-known for its cocoa consumption, and its population has better health and lower incidence of heart disease.
- Polyphenols – plant-derived compounds that protect against bacteria and UV rays. The most abundant polyphenols in cocoa are flavonoids, catechins, and epicatechins.
- Theobromine – plant-derived compound that has many important functions in heart, respiratory, and mouth health.
- Minerals – the most abundant minerals are magnesium, copper, and iron, all of which are important in overall health and body function.
Mechanisms of Action
Flavanols (a class of flavonoids) present in cocoa increase the production of nitric oxide (NO) by blood vessels (endothelial cells), which leads to widening of blood vessels, improving their function.
Cocoa exerts its antioxidant properties due to flavanols, which decrease the production of free radicals and, therefore, prevent the destruction of fats in the blood .
Epicatechin and catechin cross the blood-brain barrier and localize in certain areas of the brain, therefore providing protection to the brain and improving cognitive function .
Health Benefits of Cocoa
1) Lowers Blood Pressure
Consumption of cocoa has been proven to lower blood pressure .
A study of 15 healthy people showed that the higher the concentration of flavanols, the greater the effect of cocoa on reducing blood pressure. Those who consumed dark chocolate, which has a high concentration of flavonols, saw a much more significant impact than those who consumed white chocolate (without flavonols) .
A meta-analysis showed that those who consumed high amounts of flavanols saw a greater reduction in blood pressure than those who consumed little to no flavanols .
2) Prevents Oxidative Stress
Polyphenols in cocoa are antioxidants that prevent free radicals from damaging cells .
3) May Improve Cognitive Function
Cocoa flavonoids improve brain health and cognitive function through both direct and indirect mechanisms.
Flavonoids, mainly catechin and epicatechin, cross the blood-brain barrier and localize in areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning, which is where most neurodegeneration occurs .
A pilot study on 4 healthy young adults showed that cocoa flavanols also increase blood flow in the brain .
4) May Prevent Heart Disease
A meta-analysis suggested that the consumption of cocoa can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension), lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease .
A review showed that daily consumption of cocoa can increase nitric oxide (NO) circulation in the bloodstream and improve endothelial function .
5) Enhances Mood
A pilot study on 48 healthy men and women revealed that consumption of cocoa enhances mood .
A review of several studies also showed the effects of chocolate on mood. Based on the evidence collected, cocoa and chocolate are effective in enhancing mood as well as relieving mental fatigue .
6) Reduces Constipation
Cocoa husk is rich in dietary fiber, which helps keep the colon healthy.
A study on 48 constipated children revealed that cocoa, mainly cocoa husk, reduces constipation. Those that received the cocoa supplement reported quicker bowel movements, and fewer hard stools, compared to placebo .
A single-blind study of 44 healthy men and women suggested that regular consumption of cocoa results in a healthier bowel. Participants who consumed two servings of cocoa a day had faster, more frequent bowel movements, as well as softer stools .
7) Reduces Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
A study showed that daily consumption of high concentrations of cocoa polyphenols reduced chronic fatigue syndrome, compared to placebo .
8) May Treat Brain Disorders
Increased reactive oxidative species (ROS) play a role in the onset of brain disorders.
Due to the antioxidant properties of polyphenols, consumption of cocoa reduced the production of ROS, potentially protecting against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia .
A pilot study also showed that catechins and epicatechins in cocoa prevent the toxicity and death of brain cells in rats .
9) May Reduce Obesity
A study found that rats who were fed cocoa had less visceral fat. This may be due to the ability of cocoa to decrease the production of fats .
Another study showed that cocoa consumption in male mice reduced weight gain and the absorption of fat from the diet. Cocoa also reduced inflammation associated with obesity as well as improved insulin resistance .
Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) is an enzyme present in normal cells that can lead to cancer if in excess. Cocoa flavanols and procyanidins reduce ODC activity, therefore reducing the risk of developing tumors, and can also kill colon cancer cells .
A pilot study revealed that cocoa also inhibits the growth and reproduction of prostate cancer cells, but not the growth of normal cells .
Moreover, a review showed that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa play a role in reducing the overall risk of cancer .
11) Reduces Bad Cholesterol
A study on 48 people at-risk for heart disease and another study on 25 people with normal or slightly high cholesterol showed that consuming cocoa powder on a regular basis decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased HDL (good) cholesterol [32, 33].
12) Improves Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Studies have shown that consumption of polyphenols can improve diabetes. Cocoa polyphenols, especially from dark chocolate, improve glucose breakdown, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin resistance [9, 34].
A study on 10 diabetic patients revealed that consumption of cocoa counteracts blood vessel dysfunction caused by diabetes and improves endothelial function .
13) Protects the Skin
The antioxidant properties of cocoa flavonols play an important role in skin health.
A study on 24 healthy women who consumed high amounts of cocoa flavanols concluded that cocoa flavanols provide protection from UV rays, improve blood circulation, and hydrate the skin making it softer and less scaling .
Another study found that cocoa flavanols improve blood circulation and increase oxygen concentration in the skin .
Another study on 11 smokers showed that the consumption of flavanols can reverse skin damage caused by smoking .
14) Protects the Teeth
15) Helps the Lungs
A review showed that theobromine relieves coughing in humans and guinea pigs, with fewer side effects than other remedies .
16) May Help Heal Wounds
Cocoa has long been used as a remedy for skin conditions such as burns and cuts. While there is not a lot of evidence for the topical use of cocoa products, a review of several studies showed that it promoted the regeneration of skin cells in pigs [41, 42].
Cocoa also disinfects skin wounds and protects against harmful UV rays .
17) Treats Copper Deficiency due to Tube Feeding
A similar study revealed that cocoa restored and maintained normal copper levels in deficient patients .
18) Reduces Negative Effects of Magnesium Deficiency
A diet low in magnesium can result in magnesium deficiency, which produces adverse symptoms, such as a loss of muscle mass.
Cocoa is rich in magnesium. A pilot study on rats revealed that cocoa can increase magnesium levels and improve the symptoms of its deficiency .
Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from cocoa beans. Some of its components include the amino acids arginine and leucine, fatty acids, such as oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids, theobromine, and caffeine, among others .
Cocoa butter doesn’t contain the polyphenols and, therefore, doesn’t have the same effect as cocoa.
19) Reduces Cough
Cocoa butter is widely used to treat a cough, in combination with warm milk and honey. Cocoa butter can also be rubbed on the chest and back to reduce coughing.
20) May Reduce VLDL Cholesterol
VLDL cholesterol is the most unhealthy cholesterol-carrying protein as it contains the highest amount of fat (triglycerides). A pilot study revealed that rats that received cocoa butter had less VLDL cholesterol. This decrease can be attributed to a decrease in fat production or an increase in its removal .
21) May Improve the Skin
A pilot study on human skin showed that cocoa butter moderately increases the thickness of skin as well as collagen density. Results were better when cocoa butter was combined with cocoa polyphenols, compared to cocoa butter alone .
22) May Improve Kidney Function
People with food sensitivities can have negative reactions to cocoa, including Joe. It’s recommended that you exclude it from your diet in order to see if you react to it.
It should also be noted that while cocoa has many health benefits, commercial chocolate and its products contain high amounts of sugar, fat, and additives, which are far from being healthy.
While cocoa has many health benefits, when consumed in high amounts, can cause some adverse effects:
- Too much cocoa can produce acne .
- Chocolate can cause migraines .
- Metals, such as nickel, that are present in cocoa can cause allergies, skin inflammation, and lesions .
Sources of Cocoa
- Cocoa can be obtained as cocoa beans, nibs, liquor, powder, and husk [53, 54].
- It can be consumed as chocolate, including milk and dark chocolate (white chocolate doesn’t actually have cocoa) . The higher the percentage of cocoa in chocolate, the more are its health benefits.
- Cocoa can also be supplemented in 500 mg capsules.
- It can also be used topically as or in combination with cocoa butter.
Other Sources of Polyphenols
Compared to other sources, dark chocolate has the highest amount (10 – 15 grams/kg) of flavonoids (proanthocyanidins) .
Other healthy polyphenols (with posts):
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