What are the health benefits of this Aztec food of the Gods?

  • Discover how dark chocolate can protect your brain cells
  • Chocolate for life, love and health
  • What do the Aztecs, Madame du Barry and Casanova have in common?

I like a good news story, and today’s is all about CHOCOLATE.

How about that for an attention grabbing first line……….. especially as some of the latest research says that chocolate isn’t just good eating, it could also guard against brain injury following a stroke.

I can’t imagine that the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism (JCBFM) would be your normal morning read and if I’m being honest it’s not high on my list either, but I was drawn to it the other day, and that’s where I made my discovery.

The good folk of John Hopkins University in Canada published a study in the JCBFM recently which was of HUGE interest to me.

Basically the summary was that chocolate is a VERY good thing, having shown in studies that dark chocolate affects a biochemical pathway which can help protect the body from strokes.

But before I get carried away, like all good news there are a few other facts we need to take into account.

Firstly, the study was into the protective effects of chocolate against brain injury for stroke patients, however, the research so far has only been done on mice.

Next, the benefits were at their greatest when the chocolate was consumed ninety minutes before a stroke was generated in the subjects.

I guess you might be thinking that this isn’t such good news after all – after all are you likely to be able to pre-empt your ischaemic attack and have the chance to get a bar of Bourneville down in time to ensure you minimise any damage?

But don’t despair, this research is in it’s very early days and the results are in fact very exciting, and of real relevance to me.

Let me explain.

The head researcher on this project was Dr Sylvain Dore who says that he foresees his research leading to insights into limiting acute stroke damage AND protecting against chronic neurological degenerative conditions such as Alzheimers.

This is the bit that I am interested in, as my Dad has this horrible condition, and I want to be able to do all I can to help him. For so long Alzheimers and Dementia have been sidelined by mainstream medicine, with many sufferers being cared for at home with little intervention – other than very powerful sedatives.

Maybe this is all about to change as Alzheimers became a cornerstone of the UK government’s new mental health initiative last month, with promises for faster and more accurate diagnosis and immediate interventions to limit the effects on the sufferer and carers.

This is not before time. I would also like to see the research remit extended to consider natural and nutritional factors as well as pharmaceutical ones.

Maybe then we will discover the way that dark chocolate could be used, as it seems that there is so much more we can learn about this amazing natural product.

For instance, Dr Dore and his team have also been studying Kuna Indians who live on islands off of the coast of Panama, who drink a very bitter cocoa drink, but had a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease.

So, this research has shown that the protection afforded by dark chocolate for brain and cardiovascular cells could offer a significant contribution to health.

I’m sure there is a lot more work to be done in this area, and I intend to stay on top of it, so watch this space.

Chocolate for health

Much is already known about the health benefits of cocoa and chocolate which include;

·         Lowering blood pressure. Dark chocolate has been proven in studies to have a positive effect on high blood pressure and is considered as healthy chocolate – the same is not true for milk versions.

·         Minimising the risk of heart disease. Because chocolate is a powerful antioxidant, containing flavanoids (which are also found in red wine) it is believed to protect against heart disease. Even though there are saturated fats in chocolate they do not seem to be responsible for raising cholesterol.

·         Improved artery function. Studies published in the Swedish journal, Heart, found that if smokers eat a small amount of dark chocolate their artery function improves within HOURS. This means a few squares a day can dramatically reduce their risk of developing hardened arteries.

·         Helping fight cancers. This is still an area of discussion amongst the scientists, however, if the flavanoids, flavanol and antioxidants in healthy chocolate can prevent cancers growing, it is well worth trying. No studies have provided absolute proof, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence form sufferers who claim benefit.

Of course, chocolate also has other significant impacts on the body, not least because of its stimulatory qualities.

What the Aztecs, Madame du Barry and Casanova have in common

The Aztecs were the first known people to link the cocoa bean to sexual performance. The emperor Montezuma ate copious amounts of cocoa before his romantic liaisons.

In 1624 a professor in Vienna tried to ban monks from drinking chocolate because it ‘inflamed the passions’. Madame du Barry, The mistress of Louise the XV believed this too. She gave her lovers chocolate to drink when they came into her room.

This woman was seriously keen.

Another ‘keen’ fellow was Casanova. He thought chocolate was even more stimulating than champagne and called it the ‘elixir of love’.

You may even be reading today’s letter thinking, ‘Why do I even need to know all this bedroom stuff? It’s CHOCOLATE I truly love!’

That’s the real health benefit……. it just makes you feel so GOOD.

Makes sure you buy high quality dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa solids. Anything under 70% cocoa solids is still tasty, but should be considered more as confectionary than real chocolate.

Choose wisely.

Yours, as always