Medical Uses and/or Benefits of Chocolate
Mood elevator. Chocolate's reputation for making people feel good is
based not only on its caffeine content, but on its naturally occurring
mood altering chemicals phenylethylalanine and anandamide.
Phenylethylalanine is found in the blood of people in love. Anandamide
stimulates areas of your brain also affected by the active ingredients
in marijuana. (NOTE: As noted by the researchers at the Neurosciences
Institute in San Diego who identified anandamide in chocolate in 1996,
to get even the faintest hint of marijuana-like effects from chocolate
you would have to eat more than 25 pounds of the candy all at once.)
Adverse Effects Associated with Chocolate
Possible increase in the risk of heart disease. Cocoa beans, cocoa
powder, and plain dark chocolate are high in saturated fats. Milk
chocolate is high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Eating foods high
in saturated fats and cholesterol increases the amount of cholesterol
in your blood and raises your risk of heart disease.
NOTE: Plain cocoa powder and plain dark
chocolate may be exceptions to this rule. In studies at the USDA
Agricultural Research Center in Peoria, Illinois, volunteers who
consumed foods high in stearic acid, the saturated fat in cocoa beans,
cocoa powder, and chocolate, had a lower risk of blood clots. In
addition, chocolate is high in flavonoids, the antioxidant chemicals
that give red wine its heart-healthy reputation.
Mild jitters. There is less caffeine in
chocolate than in an equal size serving of coffee: A 5-ounce cup of
drip-brewed coffee has 110 to 150 mg caffeine; a 5-ounce cup of cocoa
made with a tablespoon of plain cocoa powder (1/3 oz.) has about 18 mg
caffeine. Nonetheless, people who are very sensitive to caffeine may
find even these small amounts problematic.
Allergic reaction. According to the
Merck Manual, chocolate is one of the 12 foods most likely to trigger
the classic food allergy symptoms: hives, swelling of the lips and
eyes, and upset stomach.* The others are berries (blackberries,
blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), corn, eggs, fish, legumes
(green peas, lima beans, peanuts, soybeans), milk, nuts, peaches,
pork, shellfish, and wheat.
Food/Drug Interactions of Chocolate
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors
are drugs used to treat depression. They inactivate naturally
occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize tyramine, a substance
found in many fermented or aged foods. Tyramine constricts blood
vessels and increases blood pressure. Caffeine is a substance similar
to tyramine. If you consume excessive amounts of a caffeinated food,
such as cocoa or chocolate, while you are taking an MAO inhibitor, the
result may be a hypertensive crisis.
False-positive test for pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytoma, a tumor of
the adrenal gland, secretes adrenalin, which the body converts to VMA
(vanillylmandelic acid). VMA is excreted in urine, and, until
recently, the test for this tumor measured the level of VMA in the
urine. In the past, chocolate and cocoa, both of which contain VMA,
were eliminated from the patient's diet prior to the test lest they
elevate the level of VMA in the urine and produce a false-positive
result. Today, more finely drawn tests usually make this unnecessary.
* The evidence linking chocolate to
allergic or migraine headaches is inconsistent. In some people,
phenylethylamine (PEA) seems to cause headaches similar to those
induced by tyramine, another pressor amine. The PEA-induced headache
is unusual in that it is a delayed reaction that usually occurs 12 or
more hours after the chocolate is eaten.