COCOA – health benefits

 In Articles, Diet, Supplementation

Everyone loves the taste of chocolate, but most people do not realize its amazing health benefits. Cocoa beans contain over 300 different active substances (1) Among the most important from a health point of view, polyphenols (mainly epicatechins, catechins, procyanids), methylxanthine (theobromine, caffeine), biogenic amines (phenylethylamine, tyramine, serotonin), mineral components (e.g. magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, zinc). (2).

Bitter chocolate and cocoa extracts containing a high content of the active substances listed above have a beneficial, multi-faceted effect on the human body (3). Consumption of cocoa in any form (the less processed the higher the content of active substances) may be related to:

  • lowering blood pressure (4, 5),
  • improvement of vascular endothelial function and reduction of the risk of cardiovascular diseases (6, 7),
  • a stronger antioxidant effect than tea and red wine (8),
  • improvement of cognitive functions (9, 10),
  • improving mood (11, 12),
  • reducing the risk of constipation during the supply of cocoa products being a rich source of fiber (13, 14),
  • reduction in symptoms of chronic fatigue (15),
  • improvement of lipid metabolism through decrease of ox-LDL and increase in HDL (16, 17),
  • regulation of the rate of absorption of glucose in the intestines, improvement of insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity (18, 19),
  • improving the condition of the skin and protection against UV (20, 21)
  • loss of appetite (22)

Interesting fact – in 2014, a small study without a placebo was published, in which the influence of cocoa epicatechin on the strength of the grip and the ratio of myostatin to follistatin in 6 people was examined (23). After 7 days of supplementation with 150 mg of epicatechin per day, a 7% improvement in grip strength and improvement in myostatin / follistatin ratio were observed. Does this mean that epicatechin from cocoa can be a tool for building muscle mass? Of course not. Due to the preliminary nature of the research, there is currently insufficient evidence to support this theory.

In 2018, a review paper by Decroix et al. Concerning the influence of cocoa flavonoids on sports score was published (24). Conclusions: Cocoa can improve the function of blood vessels, reduce oxidative stress induced by physical exercise and improve the use of fats and carbohydrates during exercise, but without affecting the performance of exercise. It is definitely worth following further research on the impact of substances contained in cocoa on the sports form.

Chocolate also has its drawbacks – it contains a lot of histamine and glutamate, which in sensitive people can cause problems such as headaches (25) or rashes (26). It should also be noted that although cocoa has many health benefits, commercial chocolate contains large amounts of sugar, added fats (hardened) and other additives that are not healthy.

We can consume cocoa in the form of beans, flakes, liqueur, powder and shell. Most often, however, it is consumed in the form of chocolate. That’s why I recommend consuming cocoa products with a relatively low level of processing. If you are a fan of chocolate, eat it regularly, preferably in the form of 70-90% cocoa. Consumption of even a small amount, ie 25-40 g of dark chocolate per day can bring many health benefits.

  1. Fung, T. (2011). Healthy Eating: A guide to the new nutrition. Harvard School of Public Health - Nutrition Department. 48 pages.
  2. Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease David L. Katz,Kim Doughty, and Ather Ali, 2011, 2011 Nov 15; 15(10): 2779–2811.
  3. Cocoa and Human Health: From Head to Foot--A Review. De Araujo QR, Gattward JN, Almoosawi S, Silva Md, Dantas PA, De Araujo Júnior QR. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016;56(1):1-12. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2012.657921. Review.
  4. Cocoa, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health. Ferri C, Desideri G, Ferri L, Proietti I, Di Agostino S, Martella L, Mai F, Di Giosia P, Grassi D. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Nov 18;63(45):9901-9. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b01064. Epub 2015 Jul 13. Review.
  5. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Ried K, Fakler P, Stocks NP. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017
  6. Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Feb;103(2):215-23. Review.
  7. Potential implications of dose and diet for the effects of cocoa flavanols on cardiometabolic function. Davison K, Howe PR. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Nov 18;63(45):9942-7. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b01492. Epub 2015 Jul 28. Review.
  8. Cocoa has more phenolic phytochemicals and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine. Lee KW, Kim YJ, Lee HJ, Lee CY. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Dec 3;51(25):7292-5.
  9. Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids. Socci V, Tempesta D, Desideri G, De Gennaro L, Ferrara M. Front Nutr. 2017
  10. Flavonoids and brain health: multiple effects underpinned by common mechanisms, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, 2009
  11. Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. Scholey A, Owen L. Nutr Rev. 2013 Oct;71(10):665-81. doi: 10.1111/nure.12065. Review.
  12. Immediate effects of chocolate on experimentally induced mood states. Macht M, Mueller J. Appetite. 2007 Nov;49(3):667-74. Epub 2007 May 23.
  13. A controlled, randomized, double-blind trial to evaluate the effect of a supplement of cocoa husk that is rich in dietary fiber on colonic transit in constipated pediatric patients. Castillejo G, Bulló M, Anguera A, Escribano J, Salas-Salvadó J. Pediatrics. 2006 Sep;118(3):e641-8.
  14. Effects of regularly consuming dietary fibre rich soluble cocoa products on bowel habits in healthy subjects: a free-living, two-stage, randomized, crossover, single-blind intervention, Beatriz Sarriá, Sara Martínez-López, Aránzazu Fernández-Espinosa, Miren Gómez-Juaristi, Luis Goya, Raquel Mateos, and Laura Bravo, 2012
  15. Sathyapalan T, Beckett S, Rigby AS, Mellor DD, Atkin SL. High cocoa polyphenol rich chocolate may reduce the burden of the symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutrition Journal. 2010;9:55. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-55.
  16. Regular consumption of cocoa powder with milk increases HDL cholesterol and reduces oxidized LDL levels in subjects at high-risk of cardiovascular disease. Khan N, Monagas M, Andres-Lacueva C, Casas R, Urpí-Sardà M, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Estruch R. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Dec;22(12):1046-53. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2011.02.001. Epub 2011 May 6.
  17. Continuous intake of polyphenolic compounds containing cocoa powder reduces LDL oxidative susceptibility and has beneficial effects on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in humans. Baba S, Osakabe N, Kato Y, Natsume M, Yasuda A, Kido T, Fukuda K, Muto Y, Kondo K. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;85(3):709-17.
  18. Ramos, Sonia, María Angeles Martín, and Luis Goya. “Effects of Cocoa Antioxidants in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Antioxidants4 (2017): 84. PMC. Web. 1 Sept. 2018.
  19. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Grassi D, Lippi C, Necozione S, Desideri G, Ferri C. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):611-4.
  20. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, Sies H, Stahl W. J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9.
  21. Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Neukam K, Stahl W, Tronnier H, Sies H, Heinrich U. Eur J Nutr. 2007 Feb;46(1):53-6. Epub 2006 Dec 11.
  22. Epicatechin, procyanidins, cocoa, and appetite: a randomized controlled trial. Greenberg JA, O'Donnell R, Shurpin M, Kordunova D. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Sep;104(3):613-9. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.129783. Epub 2016 Aug 10.
  23. Effects of (-)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation. Gutierrez-Salmean G, Ciaraldi TP, Nogueira L, Barboza J, Taub PR, Hogan MC, Henry RR, Meaney E, Villarreal F, Ceballos G, Ramirez-Sanchez I. J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Jan;25(1):91-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.09.007. Epub 2013 Oct 18.
  24. Cocoa Flavanol Supplementation and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Decroix L, Soares DD, Meeusen R, Heyman E, Tonoli C. Sports Med. 2018 Apr;48(4):867-892. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0849-1. Review.
  25. Foodas trigger and aggravating factor of migraine. Finocchi C, Sivori G. Neurol Sci. 2012 May;33 Suppl 1:S77-80. doi: 10.1007/s10072-012-1046-5. Review.
  26. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Bhate K, Williams HC. Br J Dermatol. 2013 Mar;168(3):474-85. doi: 10.1111/bjd.12149. Review.
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