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Stacey MayStacey May is the AAPS director of Public Outreach.

As the weather gets colder and our hearts start to flutter with thoughts of Valentine’s Day, we here at AAPS have begun contemplating the myriad benefits of our favorite snack, CHOCOLATE! Not only is this luscious, creamy treat a perfect solution to the 3 pm doldrums, but it has a number of scientifically-supported benefits including immune system control, cardiovascular health, and even cancer therapy.Cocoa Bean

So what exactly is chocolate, and what is it that we—and our bodies—love so much? To start, chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean (the seed of the fruit of the cacao tree). More than 3,000,000 tons of cocoa are produced each year and the U.S. is one of the largest cocoa consumers.1

Chocolate contains large amounts of antioxidant flavonoid compounds. Flavanols, a class of flavonoids, are naturally occurring in dark chocolate, have been shown to suppress compounds that create immune responses in the body, such as arthritis,and may have beneficial cardiovascular effects.1 Hollenberg et al. studied the effects of these flavanols on Panama’s Kuna community, who are heavy consumers of cocoa. The researchers found that the Kuna Indians living on the islands had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer compared to those on the mainland who consumed less cocoa.2,3 They surmised that the improved blood flow after consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may also affect the brain and have important implications for learning and memory.2,3

Consuming foods rich in cocoa have also been found to lower blood pressure, 4 and even reduce cardiovascular mortality by up to 50% in elderly men.5 Other studies have shown a connection between cocoa intake and a slowing of the process of LDL cholesterol oxidation, thus possibly preventing plaque buildup in arteries.6

Plus, and this is just anecdotal on our part, eating chocolate makes your day—and your mood—just a little bit brighter.

So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and healthy living, we invite you to join us for some chocolate or hot cocoa. While you’re enjoying that tasty yumminess, feel free to let us know of other fabulous foods you like with medicinal properties.

Resources Cited:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoa_bean
  2. ^ Flavanols in cocoa may offer benefits to the brain
  3. ^ Bayard V, Chamorro F, Motta J, Hollenberg NK (2007). “Does flavanol intake influence mortality from nitric oxide-dependent processes? Ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and cancer in Panama”. Int J Med Sci 4 (1): 53–8. PMC 1796954. PMID 17299579. http://www.medsci.org/v4p53.htm.
  4. ^ a b c Taubert D, Roesen R, Schömig E (April 2007). “Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis”. Arch. Intern. Med. 167 (7): 626–34. doi:10.1001/archinte.167.7.626. PMID 17420419.
  5. ^ Buijsse B, Feskens EJ, Kok FJ, Kromhout D (February 2006). “Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study”. Arch. Intern. Med. 166 (4): 411–7. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.4.411. PMID 16505260. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/166/4/411.
  6. http://www.allchocolate.com/health/basics/other_effects.aspx