Know how chocolate always helps when you have the blues? Well it’s not just anecdotal, there’s science behind this statement. And we continue to see information reporting other health benefits of the flavanols found in dark chocolate and cocoa powder, such as improved cognition and heart health. So it makes us wonder: Can cocoa flavanols help Frosties?
Some experts believe that improved blood flow is behind the positive reports on cocoa flavanols benefiting brain and heart health. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed “a 24% increase in flow mediated artery dilation (FMD), a common measure of circulation, two hours after participants consumed 900mg of cocoa flavanols. Increases in FMD climbed steadily with daily flavanol use, nearly doubling by week three.” That’s doctor lingo for flavanols increased the elasticity of study patients’ arteries and blood vessels, thus increasing their circulation.
Another study conducted at Northwestern University and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association also demonstrated benefits in people with peripheral artery disease, a circulatory condition in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs.
What’s more, the flavanols in dark chocolate and cocoa powder have been scientifically reported to boost mood and reduce stress, a key trigger for Raynaud’s attacks.
A recent study published in the journal Antioxidants showed a meaningful 29% reduction in cortisol levels (“the stress hormone” found in our adrenal glands) after four weeks of consuming high-flavanol dark chocolate (500mg of cocoa flavanols) daily. Another study conducted at Swinburne University revealed that daily consumption of 500mg of cocoa flavanol antioxidants increased participants’ “calm and contentedness” relative to a placebo control group. All very promising, and maybe not that surprising – doesn’t a dose of chocolate help raise your spirits on a bad day?
Based on the results of these limited but positive studies, it is plausible to suspect that cocoa flavanols may offer some potential benefits to Raynaud’s sufferers, but more scientific data is needed. Good news, a placebo-controlled study of cocoa flavanols in Raynaud’s phenomenon is underway at Nottingham University in the UK. The test group in this study is consuming 836mg of cocoa flavanols daily for 3 months. Results should be available within a year, and we’ll share them as soon as they become available.
But before you go out and buy a dozen dark chocolate bars and some Hershey cocoa powder, it is important to note that cocoa flavanol levels consumed in successful clinical studies generally range between 500mg and 1,000mg per day.
The average dark chocolate bar contains only 100mg of cocoa flavanols, meaning you would need to eat 5 or more daily. Milk chocolate contains even fewer flavanols, while white chocolate contains none at all because it is not made from cocoa bean solids. So if you don’t want to find yourself tipping the scales from chocolate consumption, look for brands with measured cocoa flavanol levels of 500mg or more per portion.
In sum, it is fair to say that cocoa flavanols have demonstrated benefits in the areas of brain function, heart health, peripheral artery disease and stress reduction. But will they benefit Raynaud’s symptoms? The jury is still out, but we will hopefully have some clinical trial data soon. If results are positive, let’s all have some high-flavanol chocolate to celebrate!
For more information on chocolate’s potential health and wellness benefits, check out our past articles:
Editor’s Note: We helped recruit a small sample of Frosties for the first observational trial of cocoa flavanols for people with Raynaud’s and it proved very informative with promising results, albeit still limited. Our partner in the study was FlavaNaturals, manufacturer of chocolate products high in cocoa flavanol contents (5 to 9 times that of standard dark chocolate bars). We’ve both agreed to continue exploring this potential option for people living with Raynaud’s, so keep watching our site as more information becomes available.