There are over 300 studies showing that cacao can prevent and reverse heart disease. The broader truth is that cacao is very useful for preventing heart disease, dementia, skin cancer, and diabetes, as well as chronic fatigue. The unique quality in cacao is the cacao flavonoids, which are very powerful, anti-inflammatory antioxidant compounds. One of the main antioxidants is epicatechin. Epicatechin is a nutritional tonic for the arteries. A regular intake of cacao flavonols can decrease inflammation of the arteries, decrease the amount of calcified plaque that clogs arteries, and reduce high blood pressure, as well as increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing LDL cholesterol. Cacao helps prevent heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure and cuts the risk of death by heart disease by 50%.
Research on dementia and memory loss have been shown to have a decreased blood flow to the brain. Cacao increases blood flow to the brain and supplies brain cells with more oxygen and glucose, which help it perform better. Other studies show that ingesting the flavanol rich cacao improves working memory (short term memory), attentiveness, and decreases mental fatigue. At Harvard Medical School, after one month of people consuming cacao in a population whose average age was 73, there was an increase of brain blood flow and mental performance. In another study, cacao was shown to help people with mild cognitive impairment.
Cacao flavanols also improve the function of a specific memory center in the brain called the dendate gyrus. In the journal Nutrients, a study was published that showed cacao flavonoids provided protection against skin aging, and another study found that people who took cacao for 12 weeks had a 25% better protection in their skin from UV radiation. Another area cacao plays a role according to the Nutritional Journal is chronic fatigue. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome who ate cacao for 8 weeks experience less chronic fatigue and were less depressed and anxious, as compared with a control group given placebo chocolate. When the cacao eaters where placed on the placebo their depression returned. In cases of type-2 diabetes I have found that cacao in the immediacy increases blood sugar; however, studies in general have shown that cacao can prevent diabetes and help prevent complications. In a recent study of 8,000 people published in Clinical Nutrition, people eating 1 ounce of chocolate 2 to 6 times weekly had 34% lower risk of being diagnosed with diabetes as opposed to those who ate cacao only once a month. Research in Diabetes Care showed of 93 postmenopausal women with type-2 diabetes those who ate cacao everyday for one year had better blood sugar control and 11 times lower risk of developing heart disease. Cellular and animal studies have shown that cacao flavonoids protect insulin producing beta cells.
One final caveat – a study on people with pollution caused diseases showed that air pollution has been linked to heart disease, lung disease, and brain inflammation. In studying people from Mexico City they found that people living in the city who consumed a cacao drink every day for 1 to 3 weeks had lower levels of plasma endothelin, a biomarker for pollution. We’re seeing that cacao is protective against heart disease, memory loss, dementia, skin-aging, skin cancer, type-2 diabetes, and even system inflammation caused by pollution.
How much cacao does one need on a daily basis? Some estimate that we need a minimum of 400 milligrams of cacao flavonoids daily. This is the amount used in many of the studies. In terms of cacao powder, which is really the best way to do this, people seem to do well with 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cacao powder, which supplies that 400 milligrams. Other research suggests as much as 1200 milligrams. In other words, 1 to 3 tablespoons per day are recommended. I recommend the cacao powder versus the different dark chocolate bars because there is often sugar put in these. If one wants to use cacao as a preventative therapeutic it is best to take 1 to 3 tablespoons daily. If you really enjoy cacao bars, if it is 70% or more from cacao, you may consume 28 grams or 1 ounce daily for the desired effect. In other words cacao is not just a fad, it’s based on fact-based science in terms of being a significant preventative and healing food.