6 Proven Brain Benefits of Chocolate
Chocolate lovers, rejoice! As if you needed another reason to indulge in one of the world’s most popular foods, chocolate can actually be good for you and your brain. Chocolate, in its raw form, is filled with healthful benefits. It’s all the commercial processing, sugar, dairy, and additives that transforms it from a health food to a weapon of mass destruction.
A wealth of research shows that extra dark, sugar-free, additive-free chocolate delivers substantial benefits.
6 Science-Backed Ways Chocolate is Good for Your Brain and Your Mental Health
1. Reduces depressive symptoms.
Dark chocolate contains the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, which is involved in regulating moods and releases feel-good endorphins in the brain. According to a 2019 study in the journal Depression and Anxiety, people who consumed any amount of dark chocolate during two 24-hour periods were 70% less likely to report symptoms of depression than those who ate no chocolate. Among the chocolate eaters, the 25% who ate most of it were the least likely to say they experienced depressive symptoms. Before you run to the store to stock up on chocolate bars, take note. It was only dark chocolate that produced a significant reduction in the risk of depressive symptoms.
2. Improves cognition.
3. Improves blood flow.
Research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition has found that cocoa improves the health of blood vessels, and other studies have pointed to its ability to lower blood pressure. This improves overall blood flow, which is one of the keys to brain health. Low blood flow on brain SPECT imaging studies has been seen with depression, suicide, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, hoarding, murder, substance abuse, seizure activity, and more.
4. Boosts “falling in love” neurochemicals.
Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which releases endorphins in the brain. These are some of the same neurochemicals the brain produces when you fall in love. No wonder so many people say they love chocolate. PEA is also believed to be associated with certain mental health disorders. For example, a 2014 study found that ADD/ADHD is characterized by low levels of PEA and suggests that PEA may be a safe alternative to SSRIs in the treatment of depression.
5. Reduces inflammation.
Dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavanols, which have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation has been associated with a variety of mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific studies also point to an associated between high levels of inflammation and decreased motivation and suicidal behavior, along with activation of parts of the brain that feel social rejection, fear, and threats.
6. Increases serotonin.
Dark chocolate contains serotonin, the “don’t worry, be happy” neurotransmitter that is known for boosting moods. Low serotonin activity increases the risk of depression and may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly, according to research in Neuropsychopharmacology.
Not an Excuse to Overindulge
Yes, science confirms that dark chocolate offers benefits for the brain and mental health, but that doesn’t mean more is better. Stick to no more than 1 ounce and be sure to choose a sugar-free, dairy-free variety that’s at least 70% cocoa.
At Amen Clinics, we take an integrative approach to diagnosing and treating our patients that includes brain imaging, lab work, and extensive assessment of your personal history (including asking about the foods you eat). We believe in using the least toxic, most effective solutions for mental health symptoms, which may include nutritional counseling and natural supplements, as well as psychotherapy and medications (when needed).
If you would like help finding integrative solutions for your symptoms, call 888-288-9834 today to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.