Chocolate can do many wonderful things for you. It has antioxidants, it boosts endorphins — and now, thanks to a newly released clinical trial, it can also calm you down.
Australian researchers at Swinburne University of Technology got a test group of 72 men and women together and had them track their moods after eating different kinds of chocolate for 30 days. “Anecdotally, chocolate is often linked to mood enhancement,” said lead author Matthew Pase in a press release. “This clinical trial was perhaps one of the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.”
Polyphnenols are molecules that slow cell damage. The polyphenol sparking scientific interest in chocolate is resveratrol. Resveratrol reduces inflammation, keeps bad cholesterol from congealing, and also increases the growth of blood vessels. Basically, it fights all of the molecular breakdowns that happen as we age — and that’s what the researchers wanted to test.
The researchers gave some group members a dark chocolate mix to drink for 30 days with 500 mg, 250 mg, or 0 mg of cocoa polyphenols. They hoped to learn about the effects of polyphenols on both mood and cognitive functions, but only saw results in mood. The group members who had 500 mg of polyphenols a day reported an increase in calmness and contentedness throughout the study period.
But before you run out and buy a mountain of dark chocolate, you should know about some of the limitations. First of all, the calm feelings only apply to dark chocolate. Milk and white chocolate have much lower concentrations of polyphenols, so they can’t mellow you out. Secondly, participants rated their own moods. Self-reported mood is a tricky barometer for a study because it’s subjective. The participants used 16 different scales to do that before and after the experiment. With all that quantifying it’s really difficult to verify that the dark chocolate was the sole factor improving their moods. But the fact that they did feel calmer is worth further research.
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Chocolate isn’t the only food pumped up by polyphenol goodness. Foods like red wine, olive oil, and green and black teas also offer health benefits because of polyphenols. The health benefits of those polyphenols, both as an antioxidant and in slowing the progression Alzheimer’s disease, still needs a fair amount of scientific testing to be conclusive.
Granted, most research on polyphenols is a bit excitable and makes chocolate sound like magic. It isn’t. The amount of polyphenols needed to reap its benefits are far greater than we can shove into a chocolate bar. But the more scientists are able to learn about polyphenols’ effects on mood, the more they can use them to treat anxiety disorders. And since scientists figured out a better way to make chocolate that boosts the polyphenol content (and makes it tastier), it should be relatively easy to test. And yummy.
Maybe now the question should be: is there anything chocolate can’t do?
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