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Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate and Its Effect on Cancer

Chocolate has long been touted as a superfood, and it may have many benefits for people with mesothelioma or other types of cancer. It is important to understand that these benefits come from the cocoa bean, and that many types of chocolate contain very little actual cocoa. Dark chocolate and pure, unsweetened cocoa powder are the best products to provide the benefits of chocolate.

These benefits are thought to come from compounds naturally found in cocoa beans, called phytochemicals. They can protect against heart disease, but may also lower the risk of developing cancer. Emerging research has found that cocoa compounds may even slow the growth of cancer cells. Eating chocolate is enjoyable, but possibly also beneficial, especially for cancer patients.

Phytochemicals in Chocolate

Chocolate has been found to have a lot of positive health benefits and modern research has isolated the compounds in it that are responsible. These are called phytochemicals—a term that refers to any kind of biologically active compound found in plants. There are several types of phytochemicals found in chocolate:

  • These are compounds that are believed to promote health through the ability to neutralize damaging free radicals. Free radicals are normal compounds that are created in the body, but they cause damage to cells because they are highly reactive. Antioxidants may prevent some of this damage.
  • Flavonoids are antioxidant chemicals that are specifically found in plants and that plants use to prevent damage from toxins in the environment and to repair damage. Consuming more flavonoids may provide more antioxidant protection in people.
  • Flavonol is the main type of flavonoid that is found naturally in chocolate. These compounds have antioxidant properties, but also may have other effects on the body, like lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow.

How Chocolate Benefits Health

There are many ways in which chocolate has been shown to have positive health benefits. These have been attributed to the phytochemicals naturally found in chocolate. The benefits include lowering blood pressure, decreasing levels of the “bad” cholesterol, known as LDL, improving blood flow and reducing blood clotting, which reduces the risks of harmful blood clots, preventing heart disease, and improving mood.

Only Dark Chocolate Provides Health Benefits

Not all chocolates are the same, although they all come from the same source. Chocolate is made from the bean of the cocoa tree, also sometimes called cacao. To make chocolate the pods of the tree have to be harvested and the beans removed from the pods. The beans are then fermented, dried, roasted, and ground. From this material, all chocolate products are made. Most commonly sugar, cocoa butter, which also comes from the cocoa bean, and milk are added to make chocolate.

The actual cocoa from the bean is what has so many health benefits. When unhealthy products are added to it, like excess sugar or milk fats, the end result is not so healthy anymore. This is the case with milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has fewer added ingredients and has more pure cocoa. To be called dark chocolate, a product must have at least 60 percent cocoa solids with very little or no added sugar. Dark chocolate can be bought at 60 percent, 70 percent, or even as high as 80 percent cocoa. The flavor is bitter and less sweet than milk chocolate, but dark chocolate contains significant concentrations of the compounds responsible for conferring so many health benefits.

Those healthy compounds are antioxidants and the reason that milk chocolate cannot provide them goes beyond the lower concentration of real cocoa. Milk actually binds to the antioxidants, rendering them unavailable. This means that eating dark chocolate with milk or milk products will also essentially cancel out the beneficial antioxidants in the chocolate.

Chocolate and Cancer

Because dark chocolate contains so many phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, it has long been thought that it could have an effect on cancer or may help to prevent cancer. The free radicals that cause damage in the body can damage genetic material in cells, leading to mutations that ultimately may lead to cancer. If that damage can be prevented, it may reduce the risk of developing cancer. Studies of how chocolate may prevent cancer are mixed. Some have shown that regular consumption of dark chocolate may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

There are fewer studies that have looked at the effects of chocolate on cancer cells, but a few show promising results. In one study researchers used cocoa powder and cocoa extracts to try to stop the growth of cancer cells in the lab. They saw a 70 percent inhibition in the growth of the cells, specifically by using a type of flavonoid found in chocolate called procyanidin.

A Mood Boost for Cancer Patients

People living with mesothelioma and other types of cancer are at a higher risk of experiencing depression and anxiety. Multiple studies have proven that chocolate can actually boost mood. It is thought that it boosts levels of certain chemicals in the brain, endorphins and serotonin, which has a positive effect on mood. Endorphins boost mood, but serotonin is actually used as a way of treating depression. For patients facing the difficulties of living with and being treated for cancer, dark chocolate may provide a little boost in mood and make a tough day easier.

Moderation to Balance Benefits

Most health experts would agree that dark chocolate in moderation poses no risks and may provide health benefits, including those for cancer patients. It is important to eat chocolate in moderation, though, and to focus on dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa. Too much chocolate of any kind means consuming too much sugar and fat, and that can have negative health consequences like obesity and diabetes.

Chocolate is a true super food with all kinds of health benefits. For a mesothelioma patient this food can provide a boost in mood, protection against heart disease, lowered blood pressure, and possibly even protection against cancer growth. As researchers delve further into the study of chocolate and its phytochemicals, patients may get even more good news about why they should be eating more of 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.

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