Harvard: Cocoa has Extraordinary Health Benefits

Thursday, 13 Dec 2012 04:15 PM

 

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It’s not a coincidence that we shower loved ones with chocolate in a heart shaped box for Valentine’s Day. Recent research confirms what Cupid already knew – that dark chocolate does your heart good.
Harvard researchers analyzed 21 separate scientific studies on cocoa, a key component in dark chocolate, and concluded that cocoa consumption is associated with cardiovascular as well as other health benefits.
Dr. Eric Ding of the Harvard Medical School tells Newsmax Health that his extensive research reveals that cocoa lowers blood pressure, improves the health and elasticity of blood vessels, and improves cholesterol levels. Because it improves blood flow, the benefits seem also to extend to the brain and have important implications on learning and memory.
Centuries of Proof
“The Kuna people of coastal Panama drink cocoa water each and every day, and they never seem to have high blood pressure associated with aging as we do in most of the Western world,” he says. “They also have a much lower incidence of cancer. So we gathered data from several studies and found such credible evidence from many diverse and independent scientific sources that we feel we reached the tipping point on cocoa’s extraordinary health benefits. This is no longer a myth based on anecdotal evidence.”
Historically, cocoa has been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years since the time of the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. More than 100 therapeutic uses for chocolate and cocoa have been noted, including the treatment of fatigue, fever, angina and heart pain, kidney and bowel complaints, and shortness of breath.
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Dr. Ding explains that it’s the flavonoids in cocoa that protect against disease. Cocoa contains three types of flavonoids: procyanidin, catechin, and epicatechin.
A study recently published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that the epicatechin in cocoa lowers blood pressure. Another study from San Diego State University showed that people who consumed dark chocolate had lower blood sugar levels and healthier cholesterol ratios than people who ate other forms of chocolate.
“We’ve noticed that ingesting cocoa helps protect the heart in several ways. It raises the HDL or good cholesterol while lowering the LDL, or bad cholesterol,” Dr. Ding says.
Diabetes Help
His research revealed that in the study groups of people who consume cocoa, resistance to the hormone insulin dropped, which means it could ease diabetes. Participants maintained ideal weight levels even though cocoa and chocolate are often forbidden to diabetics.
Dr. Ding says that in addition to these benefits, cocoa appears to make the blood vessels more elastic and healthy. It’s important to note that the studies used low-sugar or unsweetened dark chocolate and pure cocoa, not commercially available candy bars.
“Eating high-fat, high-sugar chocolate bars that would add so many unhealthy calories it would negate the health benefits,” says Ding.
Cocoa Supplements
Cocoa supplements, usually in powder form, are widely available at health food stores and on the Internet.
Dr. Ellen Kamhi, author of “The Natural Medicine Chest,” agrees that it’s important to consume the right source of cocoa. “Standard commercial chocolate may not have the original flavonoids of the cocoa bean, which supports good health,” she tells Newsmax Health. “Over-processing destroys them, so choose products such as dark chocolate, or unprocessed, unsweetened chocolate. Of course, it’s important to enjoy a diet high in colorful, organic vegetables and moderate exercise but enjoy a small piece of cocoa-rich chocolate as part of your balanced diet.”
Dr. Ding says when you are buying cocoa supplements, make sure that they contain at least 400-500 milligrams of cocoa flavonoids. Examples include supplements from CocoaWell, CocoaVie, and Club Natural.
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