The past few years have been good to chocolate. Once it was discovered that chocolate was high in antioxidants and mood boosting neurotransmitters, chocolate lovers around the world rejoiced. Now, new research is showing that this delicious food has even more profound health benefits than originally thought. Here’s the scoop on the old and the new.
Chocolate and the Body: Polyphenols
Like red wine and green tea, dark chocolate is high in polyphenols (a powerful antioxidant). Polyphenols are vital and protective chemicals known to prevent heart disease by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL is a waxy substance that attaches to artery walls, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Polyphenols can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries). One of the causes of atherosclerosis is blood platelets clumping together (aggregation). The polyphenols in dark chocolate inhibit this clumping, reducing the risks of atherosclerosis.
Polyphenols can help to reduce blood pressure. High blood pressure is not only a risk factor for heart disease, it is also a common cause of kidney failure, and a significant contributor to cognitive impairment. Studies have shown that consuming a small piece of dark chocolate daily can reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension.
Chocolate and the Mind: Neurotransmitters
Chocolate contains phenethylamine. Phenethylamine acts upon the brain to increase the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine (our brains pleasure center). Dopamine is released upon endorphin stimulation, during heightened passion, excitement, and falling in love. The gradual build up of this neurotransmitter fosters an increase in focus, motivation, energy and happiness. Phenylethylamine also inhibits the break down of dopamine to further increase the chocolate bliss-inducing effect.
Chocolate boosts levels of serotonin. High levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with feelings of being calm, happy, and relaxed. People suffering from depression characteristically have lower serotonin levels and women typically have lower serotonin levels during PMS and menstruation. Looks like years of monthly chocolate cravings finally make sense….