We can now add chocolate to the list of prescription medications that are overflowing the medicine cabinet.
Studies show that eating chocolate regularly and in moderation can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
It is even believed that its ingredients stimulate the brain and could be associated with happiness and the feeling of falling in love, according to Dr. Debra Miller, Ph.D.
Miller, who spoke at the Hanover Community Health & Education Center on Tuesday evening, is a senior nutrition scientist at Hershey Company. She discussed the historical use of chocolate as a health remedy, and modern day scientific research on the health benefits of cocoa and chocolate as part of an educational presentation on heart and vascular health.
Miller said that in ancient times, it was believed that adding cocoa to your diet was thought to relieve eczema and generate more blood flow to relieve heart complications.
“The Mayans and Aztecs found more than 150 medicinal uses for cocoa including reducing the risk of getting cardiovascular disease,” said Miller.
Even though the Mayans and Aztecs, who were the first known consumers did not add sugar or sweeteners to their chocolate, studies show that it can still have life-saving benefits.
The Mayans are a very interesting culture,” said Miller. Like ours, the Mayan diet was high in salt, but they showed no signs of having high blood pressure. “This is because they drank five to six cups of a heavy cocoa beverage each day.”
Studies conducted at Hershey Company have shown that similar results are possible today through the daily consumption of chocolate. According to Miller, one test asked 13 middle-aged men who had high blood pressure to eat one chocolate bar every day for 14 days. By day four, the test showed that there was a blood pressure reduction after day four. When they stopped eating the chocolate, their blood pressure began to rise again.
By consuming chocolate regularly and having lower blood pressure, “It cuts the risk of getting cardiovascular disease in half,” said Miller. “It cuts the risk of dieing from anything in half.”
Other foods associated with a lower risk of getting cardiovascular disease are tea, apples and onions. According to Miller, people who have a high intake of these foods are about 60 percent less likely to get cardiovascular disease.
But, “Blood flow isn’t just about your heart, it’s also about your brain,” said Miller. When your blood flow increases, the flow to the brain increases as well.
A study with the NCAA showed that eating chocolate made players more alert and better able to concentrate. “They also had more mental energy and more physical energy,” said Miller.
“Areas the brain [this] stimulates is your process of thought, things that you need in resolving problems, in arithmetic and all kind of things that take thought including memory retrieval,” said Miller.
Chocolate takes full effect in stimulating the brain at its peak two hours after it has been eaten. “So next time you’re going to do some math, eat chocolate two hours before,” said Miller.
Cocoa, which is used in making chocolate is also a good source of antioxidants, which are necessary for boosting the immune system and slowing the aging process can be used as a lower calorie option to chocolate. “Two tablespoons of cocoa equals six and one-quarter cups of black tea,” said Miller. It is also the equivalent of one-and-a-half cups of blueberries.