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Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate and Its Effect on Cancer

Dark chocolate is decadent, rich, and almost seductive. Believe it or not, dark chocolate is more than just a tasty treat, it also has plenty of health benefits. Dark chocolate is packed-full of immune-boosting nutrient which makes it particularly appealing to people with mesothelioma or other types of cancer. However, the nutritional benefits of chocolate originate in the cocoa bean, and many brands of chocolate contain very little actual cocoa. Dark chocolate, as well as pure unsweetened cocoa powder, will provide the largest nutritional benefit.

Chocolate’s benefits are believed to come from phytochemicals naturally found in cocoa beans. Phytochemicals can lower cancer risk as well as protect against heart disease. New research suggests cocoa compounds may even slow the growth of cancer cells.

Phytochemicals in Chocolate

While people have been enjoying the health benefits of chocolate for years, modern research has isolated the compounds responsible for those benefits. These compounds are called phytochemicals—a term that refers to the biologically active compound found in plants. There are several types of phytochemicals found in chocolate.

  • Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, compounds with the ability to neutralize damaging free radicals. Free radicals are normal compounds created in the body. However, free radicals are highly reactive and contribute to cell damage. Antioxidants prevent some of this damage.
  • Flavonoids are antioxidant chemicals found specifically in plants. Plants use flavonoids to prevent and repair damage from toxins in the environment. Consuming flavonoids may provide extra antioxidant protection.
  • Flavonol is the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate. Flavonol has antioxidant properties. However, it the health benefits don’t stop there. Flavonol has other positive effects on the body, including lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow.

How Chocolate Benefits Health

There are many ways chocolate has positive health benefits. Mostly attributed to phytochemicals naturally found in chocolate, benefits include lowering blood pressure, preventing heart disease, decreasing levels of LDL cholesterol, improving blood flow, reducing blood clotting, and improving mood.

Only Dark Chocolate Provides Health Benefits

Not all chocolates are created equal, especially when it comes to nutritional benefits. However, all chocolate comes from the same source. Chocolate is made from the bean of the cocoa tree, also called cacao. To make chocolate, the pods of the tree are harvested and the beans removed from the pods. The beans are then fermented, dried, roasted, and ground. All chocolate products are made from these ground cocoa beans, usually be adding other ingredients like sugar, cocoa butter, and milk.

Actual cocoa from the bean is what has so many health benefits. When unhealthy products are added, like processed sugar or milk fats, the end result becomes less healthy. Milk chocolate loses many of the health benefits due to these added unhealthy ingredients. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has fewer added ingredients and more pure cocoa. To be considered dark chocolate, a product must have at least 60 percent cocoa solids. Dark chocolate can be bought at 60 percent, 70 percent, or 80 percent cocoa. The flavor is slightly bitter and much less sweet than milk chocolate. However, dark chocolate contains higher amounts of the compounds responsible for so many health benefits.

Another reason milk chocolate is less beneficial than dark chocolate is the addition of milk. Milk actually binds to the antioxidants, making them unavailable. This means eating dark chocolate with milk or milk products will also cancel out the chocolate’s beneficial antioxidants.

Chocolate and Cancer

Because dark chocolate contains so many phytochemicals, it has long been suspected to have an effect on cancer. Many experts believe dark chocolate may actually help prevent cancer. Free radicals can damage genetic material in cells, causing mutations that may ultimately lead to cancer. Chocolate’s phytochemicals may reduce the risk of cancer if that genetic damage can be prevented. Research concerning chocolate and its possible cancer preventing qualities are mixed. However, some studies suggest eating dark chocolate regularly may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

There few studies that have looked at the effects of chocolate on cancer cells. However, some of this research shows encouraging results. In one study, researchers used cocoa powder and cocoa extracts to attempt to stop the growth of cancer cells in the lab. Researchers saw a 70 percent inhibition of cancer cell growth. This reduction in growth was caused specifically by using a flavonoid found in chocolate called procyanidin.

A Mood Boost for Cancer Patients

People living with mesothelioma and other types of cancer are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Multiple studies have proven chocolate is a mood booster. Chocolate is believed to improve mood by boosting endorphin and serotonin levels in the brain. Endorphins have a direct impact on mood. However, serotonin is actually used to treat depression. For patients dealing with the effects of cancer, dark chocolate may make a tough day easier, providing a small lift to their state of mind.

Moderation to Balance Benefits

Most health experts agree dark chocolate in moderation poses no risks and may provide health benefits. This is true for everyone, including cancer patients. Finding dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa will have the most benefit. Moderation is important because chocolate also contains sugar and fat, which can have negative health consequences (like obesity and diabetes) when consumed in excess.

Chocolate is a true superfood loaded with health benefits. For mesothelioma patients, chocolate can elevate mood,  protect against heart disease, lower blood pressure, and possibly protect against cancer growth. As researchers probe deeper into chocolate and its phytochemicals, patients may receive more good news about this delicious food.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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