Cocoa and chocolate come from the cacao bean. Cacao is native to South America and has been grown in the tropics for at least 3,000 years. The African country Ivory Coast is the one of the largest suppliers of raw cocoa.
Cocoa products have been considered delicacies by many cultures. Cocoa contains flavonoids, which are compounds with antioxidant effects, blood thinning properties, and possibly other health benefits. For this reason, and because it is so popular, chocolate is widely researched.
Chocolate has been studied for heart disease, skin conditions, constipation, and various other conditions. The strongest evidence exists for cocoa's ability to decrease blood pressure.
Anandamide, bitter water, black chocolate (BC), Butyrum cacao, cacahuatl (Nahuatl), cacao (Brazilian Portuguese, English, Spanish), cacao bean husk extract, cacao tree, cacaoboom (Dutch), cacaoeiro (Brazilian Portuguese), cacaoyer (French), cacaueiro (Brazilian Portuguese), caffeine, carboxylic acids, catechin, CBC, CBH, chicolatl (Nahuatl), chocol (Mayan), chocolate flavonoids, chocolate milk, chocolate tree, choxi, cinnamtannin, clovamide, cocoa bean, cocoa bean husk extract, cocoa bran, cocoa butter, cocoa husk, cocoa liquor, cocoa oil, cocoa powder, cocoa solids, cocoa tree, dark chocolate, dried cocoa bean, Dutch chocolate, epicatechin, FCMC, fermented cocoa bean, fiber, flavan-3-ols, flavanols, flavonoids, granos de cacao (Spanish), harilik kakaopuu (Estonian), hot chocolate, inulin, isomalt, kakao (Danish), Kakao (German), kakaó(fa) (Hungarian), Kakaobaum (German), Kakaopflanze (German), kakaotræ (Danish), kakaowiec (Polish), kakav (Slovenian), kawkaw (Mayan), ke ke (Chinese), lipids, methylxanthine alkaloids, methylxanthines, milk chocolate, N-linoleoylethanolamine, N-oleolethanolamine, N-phenylpropenoyl-L-amino acid amide, oleic acid, oligofructose, palmitic acid, phenylethylamine, phytochemicals, phytosterols, polyphenols, procyanidin oligomers, procyanidins, purine alkaloids, saturated fatty acids, sorbitol, stearic acid, Sterculiaceae (family), stimulant drug, sucrose, Theobroma cacao L., Theobroma cacao phenolic extracts, theobromine, white chocolate, xocoatl (Mayan, Nahuatl), xocolatl (Mayan, Nahuatl).
Note: This monograph covers cacao, cocoa products, and chocolate. Chocolate contains caffeine. For a more complete overview, information on caffeine is available in the Natural Standard caffeine monograph.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
High blood pressure
Since chocolate contains caffeine, eating large amounts may increase blood pressure. However, research has shown that dark chocolate or chocolate with high flavonols decreases blood pressure by a small amount in people with elevated blood pressure.
Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease)
Early research has shown that dark chocolate decreased high blood pressure and improved blood flow in the liver. High blood pressure in the veins of the liver is commonly associated with cirrhosis. Further research is needed in this area.
Chocolate may be beneficial for elderly people living in nursing homes. Research in area is limited and further study is needed to draw conclusions.
Early research produced mixed results for the effects of chocolate on anxiety and stress levels. Further research is needed in this area.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Limited research suggests that chocolate decreased tiredness in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition of severe tiredness unaffected by rest. High-quality research is needed in this area.
The fiber found in cacao husk may be a noteworthy source of dietary fiber. Early evidence suggests that cacao husk fiber may be helpful in treating constipation in children. More studies are needed in this area.
Early evidence shows that using mouthwash with a cocoa product decreased bacteria in the mouth of children. Further research is needed in this area.
The effects of chocolate on diabetes and diabetes risk are unclear. Further research is needed.
Research has shown benefits of drinking chocolate milk for exercise recovery. The effects of chocolate alone are unclear. Further research is necessary.
Research suggests that a diet high in cocoa flavonoids may help protect against heart disease. However, more studies are needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
High blood sugar/glucose intolerance
Cocoa flavonols had mixed effects on high blood sugar levels. Further research is needed in this area.
Consuming cocoa butter or chocolate had mixed effects on cholesterol levels. More study is needed in this area.
Early research suggests that cocoa oil may be an effective insect repellant. However, additional studies are needed in this area.
In early research, a drink with cocoa flavonols improved mental performance in people with mildly impaired mental abilities. Further research is needed to draw conclusions.
Limited study suggests that chocolate may improve mood for a short period of time. Further research is needed to draw conclusions.
Early research has shown that chocolate lacks an effect on Parkinson's disease. Additional study is needed in this area.
Early study shows that chocolate may benefit pregnant women. However, due to the caffeine content, large amounts of chocolate should be avoided as they may have adverse effects on the pregnancy. Further research is needed to draw conclusions.
Research has suggested that flavonols, which are found in chocolate, may protect the skin from sun damage. Additional study is needed in this area.
The effects of chocolate on weight loss are unclear. Further study is necessary to draw conclusions.
Early research shows that cocoa butter may help with burn scars. However, more research is needed before firm conclusions may be made.