There are many reported health benefits associated with eating dark chocolate. For example, diabetes and heart disease may be reduced by consuming it1, and you could have a 20% lower chance of having an irregular heartbeat2. Additionally, so-called ‘bad cholesterol’ can be reduced by eating chocolate3. These are just some of the benefits that have been explored. This article combines research into various aspects to present some of the ways dark chocolate can improve your health.
Improving immune system
Without a robust immune system, our bodies would be defenseless against pathogens, viruses, and bacteria4. White blood cells (leukocytes) circulate the body within the bloodstream and constantly look out for pathogens4. When they find a likely target, they multiply and transmit signals to other cells to do the same4.
When B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) find an antibody generator, or ‘antigen’ (something in the body that sparks the production of antibodies to fight it off), it begins to secrete antibodies to attack the foreign cell, which could be a bacterium, a virus, fungi, etc.4
Cocoa, found in abundance in dark chocolate, has been found to help the immune system, particularly the inflammatory response and the intestinal adaptive immune response5. It does this by altering the lymphocyte composition in the body, particularly in the intestinal tract, helping intestinal microbiota to grow and producing additional antibodies to combat infections5.
Another study found that eating dark chocolate can increase the production of T cells6, those white blood cells that help combat diseases.
Boosting brain health
A study into comparative brain function of people eating dark chocolate (70% cocoa) and people who weren’t showed impressive results. The cerebral cortex regions - the areas associated with memory and sensory processing - in the brains of those eating chocolate had notably higher gamma frequency7. This suggests that eating dark chocolate can enhance your memory and help heighten your senses.
Further research has shown positive findings in terms of dark chocolate increasing neural signalling5. Again, this shows heightened brain function associated with consuming chocolate, which is also high in antioxidants8, therefore helping to protect the body from oxidative stress. Furthermore, blood flow to the brain has been proven to increase when dark chocolate is included in a regular diet9. Neural decline linked to Alzheimer’s disease can potentially be reduced or prevented entirely with an extract from cocoa called lavado10.
Helping to achieve good skin
Raw cocoa contains vast quantities of flavanols8, which is a type of antioxidant. However, much of this is lost in the processing involved with the production of chocolate. Fortunately, manufacturers are now taking steps to try to withhold as much of this antioxidant goodness as possible8. Scientists have shown that consuming dark chocolate rich in natural antioxidants can reduce redness following extended exposure to sunlight11. This is indicative of the skin coping better with the ultra-violet radiation by which it is affected. As UV causes signs of aging in the skin, anything that helps your skin combat this radiation will make your skin look younger and fresher.
These results are not limited to only one study. There have been plenty of investigations into the potential links between eating chocolate and improved skin health. Another example of this is a British study in which participants consumed chocolate with 600 milligrams of flavanol in each portion, compared to standard chocolate with only 30 milligrams thereof12. Again, it was found that those eating the antioxidant-rich chocolate resulted in having skin that was more resistant to UV damage12.
Benefiting the gut
Chocolate has been found to help healthy bacteria in the gut8, leading to better intestinal health. However, it is undoubtedly the case that an imbalance in these bacteria can be very dangerous and lead to multiple complications13. In addition, a whole host of medical conditions have been linked to abnormalities in intestinal microbiota, including asthma, cancer, autistic spectrum disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome8. Therefore, it’s essential to look after the bacteria in your gut.
Higher levels of friendly bacteria - including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus - have been found in the intestines of people consuming dark chocolate with a high cocoa content14. These bacteria not only help with breaking down the microbes in our food but have also been shown to promote anti-inflammatory processes within the gut actively, thereby keeping the intestinal tract healthy.
Chocolate can sometimes receive bad press concerning health due to its links with increasing obesity, acne, and diabetes, among other health problems. However, as has been demonstrated in this article, it’s not all bad news. Generally speaking, the darker the chocolate, the more beneficial it is likely to be for your health. This is because lighter chocolate tends to include more of the products that are associated negatively with the diseases mentioned above. On the other hand, dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content and, therefore, more benefits.
Not only does natural cocoa have high levels of antioxidants, but it has also been proven to lower cholesterol and improve brain function. As well as that, degenerative diseases - such as Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular conditions - are statistically less likely to occur in people who regularly consume dark chocolate. Furthermore, there are documented advantages to other biological systems, including the immune system and the digestive tract. Finally, scientists have shown that eating dark chocolate can make one’s skin more resistant to damage from ultraviolet radiation. This means that the skin looks younger and firmer.
All in all, there are a great many potential health benefits associated with eating dark chocolate. That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone should consume vast amounts thereof every day. As tends always to be advised with any food item, moderation is key.