Claim: Dark chocolate helps lower blood pressure, protect the heart, and increase stem cell production.
Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE. While different studies show components of dark chocolates like Flavonols pose health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and increasing stem cell production, it is essential to note that these studies are not conclusive; hence, more studies are needed.
Dark Chocolates are made from the cacao tree’s seed and are loaded with nutrients that can positively affect an individual’s health. They can be enjoyed in hot chocolate drinks, chocolate bars, or coatings in confectionaries. According to Healthline, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants.
Recently, an Instagram user, Kunal Stood (@doctorsood), shared a post analysing a comment from a podcast on the relationship between hot chocolate drinks and stem cells. The man in the podcast said drinking hot chocolate twice daily over a month doubled the number of stem cells produced.
Regarding this comment, Mr Stood explained that stem cells are essential as we age because they replace damaged cells with new, healthier ones.
He referenced a study at the University of California that showed that those drinking over 70% cocoa had twice as many stem cells.
Mr Stood also asserted that there is additional research that shows that eating dark chocolate increases blood flow, meaning it will reduce a person’s risk of stroke. He added that dark chocolate is also anti-inflammatory.
Noting the need for additional research, he said there seem to be health benefits linked with eating more than 70 per cent cocoa or dark chocolate.
The post had generated over 85,000 likes, 707 comments, and 142 shares as of Friday, Jan. 26, 2024.
Knowing that chocolates have been described as food with high amounts of sugar and calories, which can lead to obesity, these assertions caught our interest and prompted verification.
What do dark chocolates contain?
Dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. Unlike white chocolate, dark chocolate does not contain milk, but traces of milk can be found from cross-contamination during processing.
A dietitian, Devon Peart, in an article by Cleaveland Clinic, noted that dark chocolate, when compared with other kinds of chocolates, is better because it has lower added sugar and fat than milk or white chocolate.
They are a great source of iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavonols. Cocoa, the major component of dark chocolate, is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols, and according to the Harvard School of Public Health, this may help protect the heart.
Is dark chocolate anti-inflammatory?
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defence system or immune response to germs and other harmful substances. However, chronic inflammation can damage cells and tissues and may increase the risk of some health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, arthritis, certain types of cancers, etc.
Medical News Today noted that dark chocolate contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that eating chocolate may influence the gut microbiome and encourage anti-inflammatory activity. Another study in 2018 showed that eating 30g of 84% dark chocolate each day for eight weeks significantly reduced inflammatory biomarkers in people with type 2 diabetes.
While these are great discoveries, it is important to note that the studies are primarily done in animals, and additional research is required.
Does dark chocolate lower blood pressure or protect the heart?
Havard School of Public Health notes that Flavanols, which we earlier identified as dark chocolate content, may help protect the heart. This is because Flavonols have been shown to support the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the endolethium (the inner cell lining of blood vessels), which helps to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure.
Harvard School of Public Health noted that the link between blood pressure and high cocoa intake was described in a study of the Kuna Indians and other observational studies. This school of health also highlights that Flavanols in chocolate can increase insulin sensitivity in the short term and, in the long run, reduce the risk of diabetes.
Healthline’s article highlighted seven benefits of consuming dark chocolate, including improved blood flow and lowered blood pressure. This is also attributed to the production of NO stimulated by Flavonols.
Medical News Today, in this article, noted that dark chocolate may help reduce a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease because some of the compounds in dark chocolate, specifically flavanols, affect two major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
What is the relationship between dark chocolate and stem cells?
An article by William Li noted that dark chocolates are suitable for the heart and stem cells. Mr Li, referencing a study, noted that sixteen patients with known coronary artery disease were divided into two groups where one group received hot cocoa with a low flavanol content of only nine milligrams per serving and the other group received hot cocoa (dark chocolate) with a high flavanol content of 375 milligrams per serving twice a day.
The result of this study was that the participants who drank the high-flavanol hot cocoa had twice as many stem cells in their circulation as those who consumed the low-flavanol cocoa.
We also found the study referenced by Mr Sood on Cocoa and chocolate on human health and disease, which revealed that cacao, the quintessential ingredient in all true chocolate and cocoa products, imparts a rich endowment of nutritional properties, from minerals to antioxidants to vasoactive, and even psychoactive compounds.
However, the study itself noted that while a strong body of evidence pointing to a net health benefit from routine consumption of dark chocolate is accumulating, further epidemiologic study needs to be done before such evidence is widely acknowledged as truly decisive.
It is also important to note that dark chocolate has its downsides. One of these is that at higher percentages, dark chocolate has a bitter taste and contains more caffeine, which, according to Mr Peart, is a stimulant, and some persons are sensitive to it.
Another downside is that dark chocolate contains moderate saturated fat associated with high cholesterol.
It is important to note that dark chocolate with high cocoa content should be taken in moderation as it may also contain high amounts of sugar and calories (150-170 calories per ounce).
Although it is true varying studies have shown there are health benefits from some compounds of dark chocolate, it is important to note that additional studies are required to establish these findings.