De-stress this Valentine’s day with a bit of dark chocolate

It is Valentine’s Day on Sunday and chocolate sales are bound to be high.  Readers of this blog may remember reading about my penchant for good dark chocolate (my preferred chocolate is very rich and dark at 85% cocoa solids), well it seems like giving this treat to yourself or a loved-one could really be a stress-buster.

Cocoa and good quality dark chocolate (the 70%+ cocoa solids varieties) have been shown to have numerous health benefits mainly due to their antioxidant capacity in the body.  A recent study has found that dark chocolate may also be useful in reducing emotional stress (1).

The study (1) was small and very preliminary but certainly interesting.  The study participants were first tested using validated psychological questionnaires to see if they had low or high anxiety traits.  They were given 40g of dark chocolate daily for two weeks.  Blood and urine samples were collected 3 times during the study – at the start, middle and end.  The samples were rigorously tested to see whether various measures of body chemistry of the individuals was changed by the chocolate eating and also to see whether specific processes of gut bacteria was altered.

Interestingly the participants with higher anxiety traits showed a distinct change in their metabolic (bodily chemical processes) profiles when eating the dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate was, amongst other things, found to reduce the urine levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as other body chemicals related to stress.  Dark chocolate was also found to partially normalise and correct stress-related differences in specific body chemistry levels as well as the activity of specific gut bacteria (1)

In conclusion the scientists suggest that the study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 g of dark chocolate daily during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human subjects (1)

Further studies to confirm these results are needed and the study definitely does not justify chocolate binges!  However, reaching for a few squares of good quality dark chocolate may be a soothing way to treat yourself to something indulgent, especially on Valentine’s Day.

(1)Francois-Pierre J. Martin, FPJ et al.  2009. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects.  J. Proteome Res. 8 (12), pp 5568–5579
Written by Ani Kowal