Cacao Benefits Life Changing Chocolate!

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

How cacao benefits your healthChocolate, one of the many pleasures in life, is something we sometimes find hard to resist. The great news is that dark chocolate is not only pleasurable for your taste buds but it holds great properties for improving your health. Cacao is one of the key ingredients in dark chocolate and it is made from cacao beans that come from the cacao tree. Cacao benefits shown in studies demonstrate its ability to widen your blood vessels. This lowers your blood pressure and decreases your chance of a blood clot. There’s even been evidence to show that it can increase your brain’s attention skills, helping you to focus on whatever you may be doing. Eating chocolate containing 60 percent cacao, is able to provide alertness and attentiveness for the people who eat it. This is a possible healthy alternative to energy drinks. For some people, not all, the much sweeter taste of milk chocolate is preferred (compared to the more bitter and raw taste of dark chocolate – which is high in cacao content). This being said, the benefits of cacao rich dark chocolate should not be ignored. All it takes is the gradual development of familiarity to encourage the enjoyment and taste for unsweetened dark chocolate. You might end up surprising yourself! Chocolate can be a powerful stimulant, helping you bring your brain back to life in your midday slump at work. A study was done taking images of the brain immediately after having some dark chocolate. It showed both the effects of increasing attention and lowering blood pressure. They also found that regular chocolate which usually has a high sugar and milk content wasn’t as effective, not to mention it is more damaging to your health containing the high sugar content. Interestingly, there have been a small number of products that have combined 60 percent cacao chocolate with an ingredient known as L-theanine.

L-theanine is an amino acid that you can find in green tea and it acts like a relaxant on your body. This is the opposite of cacao, which stimulates your body and makes it more alert. The great thing about this new combination is that it heightens the cacao benefits to new levels. The opposing combination of L-theanine and cacao have surprised many with results, showing even greater ability to lower blood pressure and to help you focus. Cacao benefits of chocolate cannot be ignored. When you think of chocolate, you don’t normally think of it as something healthy. It’s time we change this type of thinking, as there are good healthy chocolates out there (to be eaten in moderation).

The Top 5 Cacao Benefits

1. Destroys free radicals

Our body continually builds up nasty things called free radicals. You get this from being exposed to the sun, the pollution in the environment, smoke that you may inhale from a passer-by, etc., they are harmful to your healthy tissues in your body and can lead to cancer or lung disease. The benefit of cacao rich chocolate is that it has a high amount of antioxidants. Antioxidants can be thought of as the body’s defender against free radicals, helping to search and destroy them.

2. Physical and mental health

Cacao benefits your physical healthCacao benefits your physical and mental health by acting as stimulation for your central nervous system. In addition, it relaxes your smooth muscles and gives your body an increase in energy. By improving the circulation of blood in your body, neurotransmitters such as serotonin are more readily available and abundant, which will improve your mood and even fight depression.

3. Lowers your blood pressure

There are certain ingredients contained within cacao, such as flavanols, which help widen your blood vessels. This has the effect of reducing your blood pressure and helping the blood flow in your vessels which is of course helping you circulate blood to your body more efficiently. This is going to improve the health of your vessels as it promotes strength and better supply the blood to various parts in your body.

4. Heart health

By lowering your blood pressure, the benefit of cacao will then further transfer to health for your heart. Improved circulation means that your organs and muscles get an improved supply of blood carrying important nutrients and oxygen. Your heart will not need to work as hard to get blood to parts of your body and it will lower the buildup of plaque on your arterial walls, which means less chances of building up a clot or lowering blood pressure with people who suffer from hypertension. Research has shown a 20% reduction in strokes and 10% reduction in heart disease.

5. Better digestion

Cacao benefits also help you digest your foods better. There is a fibre content in raw chocolate that will help encourage your body to produce more digestive enzymes. If you have an important meeting planned for the afternoon and you need to be at your best, you might want to eat some chocolate beforehand. If you suffer from hypertension, you may want to consider adding at least 60 percent cacao chocolate into your diet. We can’t struggle too much about adding chocolate to our diet can we? Look for dark chocolate that has less sugar content and has a high percentage of cacao, at least 60 percent.

Try to get organic cacao, as non-organic cacao has harmful ingredients that originate from pesticides found in farming. Be mindful that there are many cacao crops out there that are linked to child slavery, so be on the lookout for fairly traded goods in raw chocolate.

Cacao and Adrenal Fatigue

It isn’t all good news when it comes to eating raw chocolate rich in cacao. As we mentioned previously, cacao chocolate is powerful stimulant. The primary benefits of cacao are lowering blood pressure and increasing alertness. However, too much stimulation can be a bad thing. Cacao is known to stimulate both our heart and nervous system, this sometimes can give you a feeling that your heart is racing after you eat some cacao chocolate. Which can then be followed by feelings of anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. The ingredients in cacao can sometimes stimulate the autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of things like breathing and digestion. When the stimulation reaches a point that is excessive, the body is put in a flight or fight state. Which is one of the body’s survival mechanisms. By eating cacao chocolate on a regular basis you may even begin to have symptoms of high blood pressure, which defeats one of the primary benefits of cacao consumption in the first place. Other symptoms that may develop include, anxiety disorder, irregular heartbeats, depression, insomnia, headaches and a overactive bladder. Cacao rich chocolate also stimulates our adrenal glands, which is great if you need a ‘pick me up’ when you are feeling tired and exhausted in the afternoon. However, as it’s always mentioned, moderation is the key. Too much stimulation can lead to cause adrenal exhaustion. At this point in time, it may be even possible to develop such intense cravings for cacao and chocolate that you need to eat it every time you are feeling down. This can potentially result in an unhealthy addiction to chocolate.

Cacao benefits your NEM responseOne of the benefits of cacao is that it helps produce a few feel good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. These neurotransmitters play a role in putting you in a good mood, controlling pain, and helping you sleep. You need these to be at a healthy level for normal functioning of your body. These feel good neurotransmitters can ultimately end up feeling like a drug for your body not too different from amphetamines and alcohol. It is no surprise to a lot of people, that we eat chocolate not only to satisfy our physical appetite but also our minds. It makes us happy and helps us feel good, and in the long term, with over eating of cacao chocolate, your mind and body may become addicted. This can lead to you having insomnia, anxiety, obesity, nervousness, severe mood swings, and adrenal fatigue.

However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the benefits of cacao and adrenal fatigue. cacao benefits have many antioxidants and are high in magnesium as well. These are great in keeping you calm and ridding your body of free radicals, which are both beneficial for reducing the load on your adrenals. It is also important to keep in mind that cacao benefits contain theobromine and caffeine. Usually most people can have these ingredients with no harm to their bodies but with adrenal fatigue sufferers it can increase your symptoms of anxiety, depression and nervousness.

Chocolate and the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response

Raw chocolate can activate your stress response in your body. Stress has many shapes and forms. Stress can also come from what you eat and put in your body. As they say, you are what you eat. A response from the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response can be activated by the content found in cacao benefits, as they release glucose into your bloodstream. With the additional glucose load in your blood, your body will then need to react by producing more insulin to regulate your blood glucose level to a normal healthy level. This glucose balancing act takes a toll on your pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, and liver. Over time, The body will no longer be able to effectively balance your blood sugar and hypoglycemia can result.

Food sensitivity, inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut, and musculoskeletal pain are all symptoms of an inflammatory response from the neuroendometabolic stress structure.The inflammatory response can be activated after eating too much cacao chocolate. The inflammatory response is important because it’s the body’s defensive line against harmful pathogens and toxins that can damage our cells. Its primary purpose is to find the cause of cell injury, remove dead tissue and cells and start tissue repair. If the body’s inflammatory response is deranged by excessive eating of cacao chocolate, it can bring about those negative symptoms. Another issue that you need to be concerned with, is food sensitivities. The benefits of cacao are not to be disregarded but you need to be aware that foods like chocolate are inflammatory in nature to your gut. It is true that when you compare raw chocolate to your normal sweetened and refined chocolate, that the raw chocolate with lots of cacao has a high content of antioxidants and minerals essential for the health of your body. However, there is an issue with raw chocolate activating a stress response from the inflammatory properties and also the caffeine content. Caffeine will trigger the release of sugar from your liver into your blood which can lead to too much sugar storing as fat and insulin resistance.

Cacao benefits your heartSome brands of cacao chocolate also come with higher levels of metals like lead and copper. Which can have an effect on your mental health and reduce your ability to handle mental stress which can lead to an overloaded neuroendometabolic stress response from your body and the many horrible symptoms that can occur. So as a consideration for an adrenal fatigue sufferer, you may want to think about limiting your consumption of raw chocolate that has a high percentage of cacao benefits. There’s no denying the benefits of cacao chocolate having antioxidants, minerals and magnesium that are great for you but there may be alternatives where you can get these benefits while avoiding the negative health effects. Like everything in life, especially when it comes to what you eat, it’s best to take everything in moderation.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Cacao benefits