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Hmmm, Chocolate (Part 1)

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Is chocolate good for us? Does it improve our memory? Does it cure heart disease and improve our hormonal balance? Why does chocolate improve our moods? Why do we crave chocolate during winter months? Does it cause acne or allergic reactions? Does it have any effect on our skin and hair? We hear dozens of similar questions and opinions in our medical practices and seminars, family or friends’ gatherings, etc.


Now, the answers: yes, always in moderation, chocolate is good for us—unless we are allergic to any of the many ingredients used to make our favorite brand.


Does chocolate improve our memory? Many people believe it does; however, there is no scientific proof at this time of a direct correlation between consuming any type of chocolate and memory improvement. However, we know that cocoa compounds play a role with the production and effects of brain neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals. Also, ingredients other than cocoa used to manufacture chocolates, and there are quite a few, may have a positive effect on our memory as well as other brain functions.


How about heart disease? Does eating chocolate cure it? Unfortunately, the answer is, again, no. Chocolate does not cure any type of cardiovascular diseases and it may actually make them worse. However, antioxidants in chocolate do play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.


“I know that chocolate improves my hormones”—this is an actual statement from a patient. Chocolate does not have a direct influence on the production or effects of hormones in our bodies. It may cause an indirect effect on our mood by stimulating our taste buds and their nerve connections to certain areas of our brain.


At this time, we know that “cocoa,” the main ingredient used to make chocolates, is not a precursor for any hormones. However, chocolate that includes whole eggs as an ingredient may provide the chemical substrate (a cholesterol-type substance) for the production of female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, as well as the male hormone, testosterone.


Another factor that we should consider is the inevitable increase in the consumption of fat that goes with eating chocolate. Most of the flavor in foods is based on many types of fats (lipids), which produce pleasant feelings in our brain while stimulating nerve endings from our mouth all the way down to our stomachs. Patients with heart disease or high blood pressure would not benefit from increasing the fat content on their diets. A recent Dutch study done with very few patients suggests that eating chocolate daily may actually lower their blood pressure a few points. This study does not consider other factors, including other elements on the patient’s diets, and its results seem to benefit the Dutch chocolate manufacturing industry.


Chocolate consumption increases during the winter season, and its mood-enhancing effects are likely to be mediated by its fat and chemical content through nerve pathways reaching the Hypothalamus, an area located at the base of the brain, which also has groups of cells regulating our emotions and other types of behavior. Chocolate has a soothing effect on us, and we really don’t need an excuse to eat it.


Does eating chocolate cause acne? The answer is no, with the exception that it may cause an allergic reaction that would make worse existing acne. The connection of chocolate consumption and acne is a long-standing popular myth (sometimes supported by uninformed doctors) that would not go away for a long time. Acne is a skin infection caused by specific germs, which should be treated by antibiotics. Allergic reactions may be caused by any of the hundreds of ingredients used for chocolate manufacturing, including peanuts.


Does chocolate improve our skin or hair? Yes, it does, again, because of its fat content. Skin and hair may look better, shinier, up to a point, because of our skin sebaceous glands’ activity. There is actually no direct correlation between the amount of fat on our diet and this activity—glands make their own secretions with nutritional elements provided by the foods we eat. 


If we are to consume cocoa beans, it would be easier to determine the positive and negative effects of ingredients found in them. However, we eat processed chocolate, with less desirable ingredients such as sugar, corn syrup, milk fats and proteins, hydrogenated oils, chemical preservatives and stabilizers, etc. The healthier types of chocolate are those made with natural and organic ingredients. 


Part 1 | Part 2


Photo courtesy of MedixNet

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