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Ask most women and they'll tell you that a good dose of chocolate really takes the edge off. It's not a joke. Science confirms that eating dark chocolate helps relieve emotional stress and also lowers blood pressure.
A study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that consuming 40 grams (about 1.4 ounces) of dark chocolate daily for a period of two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines, the fight-or-flight hormones.
The authors also concluded that their study "provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 g of dark chocolate during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of ... healthy human subjects."
Other studies had already suggested that chocolate relieved stress but this study provided evidence of the biochemical mechanism at work in relieving stress.
Chocolate lowers heart attack and stroke risk
Another study, published in the European Heart Journal, followed almost 20,000 Germans for 10 years and found that those who ate the most chocolate (an average of 7.5 grams a day – or a little more than a quarter of an ounce) had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount of chocolate (1.7 grams a day).
The lead researcher, Dr. Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition commented that "...if people in the group eating the least amount of chocolate...increased their chocolate intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about ten years."
The investigators had hypothesized that because chocolate appears to have a positive effect on blood pressure, chocolate consumption would lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks and that is, in fact, what the study found.
Since chocolate comes from the cacoa plant (don't forget, it's a vegetable!) it contains flavanols, a type of antioxidant. These antioxidants resist or repair damage caused by free radicals which are formed by normal bodily processes and exertion, or by environmental contaminants.
The researchers believe that these flavanols may explain why chocolate seems to be good for people's blood pressure and heart health.
But remember, the more cacoa is processed, the more flavanols are destroyed, so the best source of chocolate antioxidants comes from dark chocolate. Look for chocolate with a cacoa content of 70% or more.
An even better source of flavanols is raw cacoa. Available as beans, nibs or powder, raw cacao has the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food.
Chocolate's Many Health Benefits
Stress relief and blood pressure regulation can now be added to a long list of rationales we can cite to justify indulging our chocolate cravings. Other health benefits of chocolate include:
- Improved blood flow by reducing platelet activation
- Prevention of cholesterol oxidation
- Improved insulin resistance
- Protection against coronary artery disease
- Improved cardiovascular health
There are, of course, other sources of antioxidants and other foods that are effective to lower blood pressure and relieve stress, but this research gives all stressed out chocoholics something to celebrate.