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Cocoa, the most important ingredient in the chocolate industry, is made from seeds of the cacao tree. Cocoa is also used extensively in the beverage industry. Research shows that raw cocoa and dark chocolate have high levels of flavonoids that have cardiovascular health benefits. It is for this reason that cocoa is often used by many medical practitioners and is widely used clinically.
Health benefits of Cocoa
It has been shown that consistent intake of flavonoid rich fruits and vegetables reduces chronic diseases risks like cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease. Bayard, Chamorro, Motta, and Hollenberg (2007) note that unprocessed cocoa contains antioxidants that protect the human body from developing cancer. Cocoa helps to reduce cardiovascular damage by increasing the oxidation of high-density cholesterol fats and this reduces the amount in the amount of fats that may clog the blood vessels. Cocoa flavonoids also reduces the formation of clots which can damage the heart muscles, they also help in regulating blood flow to the heart and other body organs. Furthermore, cocoa has anti-inflammatory properties that curb inflammation from foreign bodies.
Cocoa provides numerous benefits to teeth and gums as it prevents gum diseases, dental caries, and other teeth problems. Moderate intake of dark chocolate on regular basis reduces blood pressure which eventually helps to protect the heart vessels. Moreover, cocoa flavonoids have also been proven to relieve diarrhea due to its ability to reduce fluid secretion in the small intestine (Buijsse, Feskens, Kok, & Kromhout, 2006). Cocoa contains theobromine, a small component of caffeine that helps in mental alertness and elevates user’s moods. This component, together with carbohydrates that are in cocoa products stimulates the nervous system and this helps to energize the body.
Cocoa intake improves blood circulation in the brain and this enhances cognitive abilities besides keeping the brain awake for long hours. An improvement in brain blood flow offers the potential of preventing brain conditions that may occur in the future, such as dementia and stroke. Cocoa also contains antioxidants that help protect various body muscles and tissues from damage. According to Wood and Lass (2001), cocoa can regulate genes that control weight gain by decreasing fatty acid synthesis in the transport system. Regular intake of products containing high quantities of cocoa polyphenols helps shield the skin from the harmful rays from the sun.
Cocoa seed produce cocoa butter, a cream colored fat that it is used to add scent, flavor, and smoothness to cosmetics, chocolate, tanning oil, soap, creams and lotions. Cocoa butter helps to keep the skin soft, a property that arises from the fact that it liquefies at low temperatures, indeed, it is due to this unique property that cocoa butter, in combination with other products, is used to treat skin infections including eczema and dermatitis. A study done by Becket (2004) reveals that massaging the skin with cocoa butter boosts the immune system, helps relieve stress, and prevents cancer.
The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been there for decades for it was traditionally used for treatment of different diseases. Cocoa is very useful health wise and its regular consumption should be encouraged among all ages. The health benefits of cocoa are mainly found in raw or natural cocoa product, nevertheless, processed chocolates from cocoa seeds also provide various health benefits.
Bayard, V., Chamorro, F., Motta, J., & Hollenberg, N. K. (2007). Does flavanol intake influence mortality from nitric oxide-dependent processes? Ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and cancer in Panama. International Journal of Medical Science, 4 (1), 53–8.
Becket, S. T. (2004). The Science of Chocolates. London, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry.
Buijsse, B., Feskens, E. J., Kok, F.J., and Kromhout, D. (2006). Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(4), 411–7.
Wood, G.A.R., & Lass, R. A. (2001). Cocoa. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.