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Science Celebrates Cocoa And Chocolate’s Potential Health Benefits

a stack of chocolatesIf eccentric candy-maker Willy Wonka could leap from the pages of Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and walk these streets, he might make a bee-line for a festival of cocoa and chocolate on the menu today at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

As the world’s largest scientific society, ACS is hosting a celebration of scientific discoveries about the food that could lay claim to being the world’s favorite treat, comfort food and indulgence. The ACS symposium, titled “Cocoa: Science and Technology,” features 18 reports from international experts on the key ingredient in chocolate — cocoa — and the emerging health benefits and other aspects of the food that has delighted people for almost 2,000 years.

“Chocolate is one of the foods with the greatest appeal to the general population,” said Sunil Kochhar, Ph.D., one of the symposium participants. “The luscious aroma, taste and textures of chocolate have delighted the senses of people in many parts of the world for centuries and make it a well-known comfort food.”

Kochhar, who is with the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, is noted for landmark research that is helping to establish chocolate’s potential health benefits. He described one study, for instance, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, one of ACS’s 41 peer-reviewed scientific journals, detailing the biochemical basis for chocolate’s reputation as a comfort food. The study, which included 30 healthy adults, found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate per day reduced levels of stress hormones and other indicators of emotional anxiety in people who felt stressed-out.

“The flavonoids and other ingredients in chocolate with beneficial health effects originate in cocoa,” Kochhar explained. “In making chocolate, cocoa seeds undergo natural fermentation before being processed into key ingredients for making chocolate — namely cocoa fat and cocoa powder.”

Among other presentations at the symposium, scientists reported:

  • How the introduction of new varieties of the cacao tree that resist “witch’s broom,” a fungal disease that has decimated some crops, may affect the taste of cocoa and chocolate.
  • That chocolate may be useful in treating of diseases involving disorders of the trigeminal nerve, including migraine and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. The study found evidence that cocoa contains biologically active ingredients that soothe the nerve’s excitability, a probable cause of these disorders.
  • Findings about the biological basis of chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects. Its rich content of polyphenols inhibit secretion of certain enzymes into the small intestine that cause inflammation.
  • How chocolate may be helpful in fighting cardiovascular problems for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Flavonoids in the chocolate strengthen mitochondria, the powerhouse of body cells, which are in a weakened condition in patients with cardiovascular problems.
  • On chocolate and high blood pressure. They found that flavonoids in chocolate