Since ancient times, multiple beneficial properties have been attributed to cocoa and its variants such as chocolate, which have positioned this food for a therapeutic rather than nutritional.
Within the properties of cocoa Note its powerful antioxidant activity, the ability to inhibit the pathways of cellular inflammation involved in multiple diseases and the regulation of the central nervous system.
For starters, cocoa beans (with the scientific name Theocacao L. ) They are the main ingredient for chocolate production. Cocoa tree cultivation is found in tropical areas of the Americas, northwestern South America and the Amazon.
The cultures of ancient Mesoamerica(much of the territory of Mexico and some countries of Central America during the period of 2500 BC. C-1521 c. C) They used cocoa beans in various drinks and dishes. These preparations were subsequently used to:
Fight certain diseases
Increase physical endurance
Currently, the properties of cocoa, its mechanisms of action and impact on health in general are known. Next we review it in detail.
Composition of cocoa and chocolate
Chocolate has a quite complete nutritional composition. Chocolate stands out for the high amount of polyphenols, especially flavonoids, which are inversely correlated with cardiovascular risk.
Although epicatechin is the flavonoid found in greater quantity, Cocoa and chocolate are also made up of flavonole glycosides, catechins, anthocyanins and procyanidins.
Finally, within minerals, both chocolate and cocoa are important sources of magnesium, copper, potassium and iron.
Properties of cocoa in cardiovascular health and inflammation
Cocoa and dark chocolate (whose percentage of cocoa is predominant) have been studied extensively in populations. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition it was found that cocoa consumption increases nitric oxide production (since it activates nitric oxide synthase), a gas that is responsible for dilating blood vessels and keeping blood pressure in balance.
Also, nitric oxide has anti-inflammatory activity, since decreases platelet aggregation and foam cell production (macrophages) They are involved in the formation of the atheroma plaque.
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Bitter chocolate polyphenols in high blood pressure
Daily consumption of bitter chocolate contributes to maintain cardiovascular health given its antihypertensive effects. Its main route of action is through the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system.
On this route, chocolate polyphenols inhibit the angiotensin converting enzyme, which increases the concentration of sodium and retains fluids, contributing to the elevation of blood pressure.
On the other hand, a study published in Frontiers in Immunology showed that consuming 45 grams of bitter chocolate (70% cocoa) increases the flow-mediated dilation in the blood vessels, improving blood pressure.
With the consumption of 100 grams of dark chocolate for 2 weeks, a reduction in systolic blood pressure (up to 4.1 mm / Hg) and diastolic (between 1.8-8.5 mm / Hg) .
Properties of cocoa on platelet function
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, by Murphy KJ et al, confirmed theBeneficial effect of the consumption of bitter chocolate on platelet function.
Specifically, it showed a reduction in aggregation and a decrease in platelet volume. These changes are suggested, are secondary, in exchange for two eicosanoids that mediate inflammatory processes.
Antioxidant activity and impact of polyphenols on the blood lipid profile
Flavonoids, present in dark chocolate, They help protect tissues from oxidative stress. Numerous clinical trials, showed that the consumption of 168 mg of chocolate per day, decreases the concentrations of malondialdehyde and the activity of lactate dehydrogenase, having as a result the increase in the antioxidant capacity of plasma.
Malondialdehyde is a marker of oxidation of lipoproteins; mainly low density cholesterol or LDL.
Lactate dehydrogenase activity is a marker of plasma membrane integrity.
The consumption of bitter chocolate has been associated with the increase of high-density cholesterol, also known as HDL or "good cholesterol", which It is responsible for mobilizing lipids from adipose tissue to the liver to be metabolized.
At the same time, there is an inverse association between the consumption of dark chocolate and the concentrations of total cholesterol and low density cholesterol, also known as LDL or "bad cholesterol." The latter are associated with the development of atherosclerotic disease and its future outcome in cardiovascular disease.
Read also: How to choose the best chocolate?
Neuroprotection after chocolate consumption
At the level of the central nervous system it has been discovered that the consumption of polyphenols from dark chocolaterich in cocoa decreases alterations in the functionality of neurons. Therefore, the incidence of dementia and memory loss is reduced.
Likewise, polyphenols reduce inflammation (produced by the transcription factor Kappa beta, NFKB) that promotes cell production β-amyloid, involved in the development of Azlheimer's disease.
Another relevant feature is that increase blood flow in the brain, so reduce the risk of developing a strokeor stroke Finally, the consumption of dark chocolate produces endorphins in the hypothalamus, so it improves mood, intellectual activity and decreases mental fatigue.
Properties of cocoa and chocolate: A measure within the nutritional treatment for obesity?
Obesity, by its definition according to the World Health Organization, is known as a disorder characterized by excess adipose tissue in the body that is harmful to health and It correlates with the development of chronic degenerative diseases.
As a consequence of the high prevalence of this disease, multiple measures have been studied for its treatment, including the properties of cocoa that allow to regulate certain metabolic alterations.
For example, a study published in the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, showed that:
Chocolate polyphenols activate the transcription factor PPAR-γ that increases the production of adiponetctin and the transport of glucose (blood sugar) mediated by GLUT 4.
These events were associated with the decrease in body fat production and induced the destruction of it. In turn, improved insulin resistance.
Importance of chocolate quality for therapeutic use
Finally, it is important to know that the processing of the grains can produce alterations in the properties of cocoa.
According to a study published in the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, there is evidence to show that the combination of cocoa with milk, or when exposed to a high temperature, decreases the beneficial effect as a result of the loss of polyphenols.
For this reason, to obtain the properties of this food at an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cardioprotective and metabolic profile mediator level, it is necessary to consume its bitter version.
Definitely, it is recommended to consume chocolates with a percentage of 70% or higher of cocoa, and preferably without the presence of milk and sugar.