5 'Lesser Known' Health Benefits of Cacao!

August 23, 2018 0 Comments

We're sure that you’ll agree that when indulging in chocolate it's done while gazing into the distance, with a blissful look on our faces, coveting the decadence, lovingly (yet protectively) referring to it as ‘my precious’.

Unfortunately, the ‘chocolate’ available in supermarkets doesn’t (generally) offer the ‘blissful’ / ‘loving’ feeling that real ‘chocolate / cacao’ is historically renowned for. This is because the compounds responsible have been stripped away for palatability, the bitterness replaced with fillers (all of the things in the ‘ingredients’ list we can’t pronounce) and a large dash of sugar* which provides it's own high.

BUT if we go back to a point where chocolate hasn't been highly processed, then we can skip the sugar highs and benefit from not only mood elevation and the ‘bliss’ effect (via the compound Anandamide - who’s name comes from ‘ananda’, the Sanskrit word for “bliss”), but also a heap of other positive health benefits that you were probably ‘blissfully’ unaware of - all giving us those shivery feels as the euphoria surges inside us with excitement.

So here are FIVE health benefits that accompany Cacao’s well known mood enhancements, that we bet you didn’t know:

Research suggests that when we are subject to oxidative stress we are more likely to be susceptible to memory decline, as well as other negative effects on the brain, at the same time it has been shown that when our diets are high in certain anti-oxidants we can aid the reduction in this decline. Cacao is packed full of anti-oxidants, quite a few different kinds of anti-oxidants. The flavanoid* and polyphenol* anti-oxidant compounds found in large quantities in cacao, have been suggested to protect the brain from degeneration, aiding memory, learning and thinking, and so may help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other brain related diseases. (1)
Flavanoids* are also linked to helping decrease the risk of stroke related brain injury due to enhancing blood flow to the brain. (2)
Heart Disease (Cardiovascular Disease / CVD) has been around for longer than you might think, with archeologists finding plaque build up in Egyptian mummies. The flavanoid* and polyphenol* anti-oxidant compounds found in Cacao have been used and studied throughout history for vasodilation (widening the blood vessels, allowing higher blood flow and in turn transfer of nutrients and oxygen), plus as anti-inflammatories and for the reduction of the build up of plaques in the arteries, all helping the heart function optimally. (3) (4)
Cacao is classified as an “IMMUNOMODULATOR” which essentially means it modulates the immune system; strengthening, balancing, supporting and regulating the immune system, optimising immune response. Research suggests that Cacao's Immunomodulatory effect originates from the polyphenol* anti-oxidants. anti-oxidants play an important role in preventing the body being put under stress from oxidation, Because Cacao has an effect on our gut (see number 5), it has also been suggested to further support our immune systems by reducing the bad bacteria during the intestinal immune response. (5)
Theobromine* is a bitter bioactive compound found in Cacao, this compound effects your mood in a similar way to caffeine, but without the unwanted side effects, it’s also been suggested to be an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. Interestingly, studies have shown that the theobromine* in Cacao aids the absorption of the polyphenols* (anti-oxidants) in Cacao. (6)
Inflammation and Immune function often go hand in hand, with depression / mood disorders often similarly linked. Anandamide (AEA) the compound responsible for the ‘bliss’ effect of Cacao, has been shown to potentially reduce inflammation and the breakdown of ‘tryptophan’ which is required in the body to produce another happy compound ‘serotonin’. So anandamide doesn't only help you feel blissful, but is also helps prevent the breakdown of other compounds that make you feel blissful - Nature is PHENOMENAL! (5) (6)
NOTE: Theobromine is the compound that can be toxic to dogs, cats and other animals, causing a variety of symptoms including; hyperactivity, trembling, vomiting, diarrhoea and in some instances seizures and possible death. This is why puppies can’t have chocolate. :(
We hear a lot about pro-biotics, foods that contain the bacteria we want to add to our guts. But what is a pre-biotic? Well, it’s a food that promotes the growth of the these good bacteria. And Cacao does this too :)
The polyphenols* (anti-oxidants) in Cacao have been shown to have another health benefit, they help increase the healthy gut bacteria (Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) we already have in our bellies. Plus, during the interaction between the gut bacteria and the polyphenols*, not only does the bacteria increase but the process encourages the absorption of the polyphenols*. It has been suggested that Cacao may also help those suffering from IBS (irritable bowl syndrome) because IBS can be caused by lower levels of the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria in the gut, and Cacao has the ability to elevate these. (7) (8)

"True strength is when you can break a bar of chocolate into four pieces with your bare hands – then just eat one." — Unknown

* Theobromine and the polyphenol / flavonoid anti-oxidants, all cause cacao to be bitter tasting, which means they are generally processed out or masked with sugar to be more palatable.

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