Chocolate Just Got Better…

Dear Reader,

I just read something that made me reminisce about the cup of hot cocoa my mom made for me on cold winter days…

The list of the humble cocoa bean’s remarkable health-promoting powers just keeps growing as we learn more about it. Research has shown how its active ingredients can reduce the risk for a host of serious illnesses, including:

• Heart disease

• Stroke

• High blood pressure

• Clogged arteries

• Prostate and lung cancer

• Dementia

• Infectious diseases

• Blood clotting

• Asthma

• Allergies

• Inflammation

• Cirrhosis of the liver

Now you can add another benefit to the list: it reverses one of diabetes’s most dangerous effects.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that cocoa significantly improves blood flow in people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Blood flow problems are some of the most serious health hazards that diabetics face. Left unchecked, their circulation can get so bad that their extremities have to be amputated—and even cause heart attack.

Researchers divided diabetics into two groups. The first consumed about 1000 mg of cocoa per day in three doses for a month, the second only 25 mg.

By the end of the month, the higher-cocoa group’s circulation improved from “severely impaired” to normal, while the low-cocoa group’s blood flow remained unchanged.

Cocoa’s power to improve blood flow lies in its ability to kick production of nitric oxide (NO) into high gear. Viagra and other drugs for erectile dysfunction work the same way. NO causes the linings of your blood vessels to relax and open up, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, and helping your body to deliver oxygen and other nutrients in the blood more efficiently.

Another reason cocoa’s so good for you has to do

with a class of chemicals called “flavonoids.” They’re abundant in fruits and vegetables as well as coffee, tea, beer, and red wine. But cocoa has them in the highest concentration.

Flavonoids are actually poisonous anti-microbials. Plants make them to guard against attack from microbes and insects. They also give fruits and vegetables their color, making lemons yellow and some apples red.

For years we thought they were potent antioxidants. But the latest research shows that’s not true. They’re actually poorly absorbed because your body treats them like toxins and tries to get rid of them. This response activates the genes that make something called “Phase II enzymes.” Your body also ramps up production of uric acid.

Together these compounds modify your body’s response to allergens, disable cancer cells and cancer-causing agents, and eliminate other dangerous substances in addition to flushing the flavonoids out of your system.

As far back as the 1600s, people began to notice cocoa’s medicinal properties. They not only enjoyed its flavor—they used it to treat angina and heart pain. It turns out they were onto something.

More good news: you don’t need a lot of flavonoids to get the benefit. Five to nine servings of fruits and vegetable a day will do the trick.

As for cocoa, don’t reach for regular commercial brands. They’re usually packed with bad fat and artificial sugar that cancel out the health benefit. Dark chocolate bars, with 70-80 percent cocoa, are the best sources of flavonoids (go for organic brands if you can; you can find them in most health food stores). They can be a little bitter but have a rich chocolate taste and contain healthy fat.

I recommend enjoying about 2 to 3 ounces about 3 times a week.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD