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Will Cocoa Soon Be Used as Medicine?

cocoa, cacao, chocolate, flavanols, flavonols, flavonoids, polyphenols, phytochemicalsSpecially formulated cocoa very well might soon be considered part of a treatment plan for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in diabetics.

According to new research, after diabetic patients drank a special high-flavonol cocoa for one month, blood vessel function went from severely impaired to normal. Flavanols are natural plant compounds also found in tea, red wine, and certain fruits and vegetables. They are responsible for cocoa’s healthful benefits.

The improvement was as large as has been observed with exercise and many common diabetic medications.

The cocoa used in this study is not sold in the supermarket.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Cocoa residue has been around for some time and has even been found in 2,600-year-old Mayan ceramic vessels in northern Belize. This pushes the start of mankind’s chocolate addiction back by 1,000 years. Prior to that discovery, the earliest signs of cocoa use dated back to 400 A.D.

However, it’s important to realize the vast difference between raw, unsweetened cocoa powder, which is high in antioxidant flavonols, and the common commercial cocoa drinks that are loaded with sugar and low in antioxidant content.

The Health Benefits of Pure Cocoa

Flavonols are a subclass of flavonoids, which are natural chemicals found in plants, fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids, in turn, are the largest group of several thousand compounds belonging to the antioxidant-rich polyphenol family (also called phytochemicals). While all flavonoids are antioxidants, some have stronger antioxidant properties than others, depending on their chemical structure.

Quite a few studies have confirmed the potent antioxidant properties, and subsequent health benefits, of raw cocoa powder.

For example, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that a cup of hot cocoa (using pure cocoa powder) had close to double the amount of antioxidants than a glass of red wine, more than double the amount of green tea, and four to five times more than black tea.

Likewise, dark unprocessed chocolate has been exonerated in several studies as actually having some positive impact on your health, such as improving your:

However, as Dr. Kelm cautioned in the article, the take-home message of the study is not that people with diabetes should guzzle cocoa (or over-indulge in chocolate, even if it’s dark, for that matter), but rather, that dietary flavonols hold promise as a way to prevent heart disease.

And there are many other dietary sources of flavonols in addition to cocoa – sources that are part of a healthy, mostly raw, low-sugar diet.

Other Sources of Heart-Healthy Flavonols

It is important to know that raw unprocessed cacao, from which chocolate is made,  which is loaded with all these beneficial polyphenols, is very bitter and well over 95 percent of people don’t enjoy it.

So if you want the heart-healthy benefits of cocoa you will have to use the bitter, unsweetened cocoa powder. (A far cry from what you long for when a chocolate craving sets in.) Because once you add sugar to your drink, the balance of antioxidant protection is likely outweighed by the damage caused by insulin abuse.

Fortunately, you can enjoy the benefits that cocoa and chocolate provides (via flavonols) by consuming fruits and vegetables.

Red grapes, apples and tangerines are high in antioxidants, as are most all vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli.

However, as I described in my recent article, Fruit Can Keep Your Arteries Squeaky Clean, you need to be aware of certain precautions when it comes to eating fruits, and you may need to restrict your fruit intake, especially if you have diabetes.

Blueberries are the top-rated food by the USDA as far as antioxidant capacity is concerned, and they’re also a safer option if you’re diabetic, as they’re low in sugar. They also have other chemicals like anthocyanins that are even more powerful than the flavonols in cocoa in protecting against free-radical damage.

Other Guidelines for Preventing Diabetes and Heart Disease

Treating diabetes, preventing heart disease and normalizing your weight all go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, following these simple guidelines will help you achieve all three.  

  • Severely limit or eliminate sugar and grains in your diet. Following my nutritional type diet will help you do this without much fuss. While nearly all type 2 diabetics need to swap out their grains for other foods, some people will benefit from using protein for the substitution, while others will benefit from using more vegetable-only carbohydrates. Therefore, along with reducing grains and sugars, determining your nutritional type will give you some insight into what foods you should use to replace the grains and sugars.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid trans fats
  • Get plenty of omega-3 fats from krill oil 
  • Get enough high-quality sleep every night
  • Treat the emotional issues that brought your health to this low point by learning a valuable, effective and non-invasive tool like the Emotional Freedom Technique

+ Sources and References