Chocolate prevents death

chocolate prevents death

chocolate prevents death

It’s been known for some time that chocolate has health benefits, and it may even be that chocolate prevents death. If it improves health, it ought to prolong (median) lifespan.

Chocolate prevents death in older men

A study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the chocolate consumption of 470 older men, age 65 to 84.(1) They were divided into tertiles (thirds) of cocoa intake. (Cocoa was used since it’s the main component of chocolate, and different kinds of chocolate have varying quantities of cocoa.)

The main source of chocolate was plain chocolate bars, although included were items like chocolate pudding and M&Ms.

One-third of the men used no chocolate, while the highest tertile consumed 4.2 grams a day, which is the equivalent of about 10 grams of dark chocolate.

An average chocolate bar, for example one by Ghirardelli, holds 100 grams, so the consumption of the men in the highest tertile was not that much at around one tenth of a chocolate bar daily.

Chocolate consumption was associated with dramatically lower death rates. Check out the following table:

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Using models that adjusted for age, BMI, lifestyle factors, drug use, and food and calorie intake, the men in the highest tertile of chocolate consumption had half the risk of all-cause mortality.

Cardiovascular death risk was similar or even better. In some adjusted models, the men who consumed the most chocolate had a 60% lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke.

Correlation or causation?

The link between chocolate consumption and mortality risk is an association, and causation has not been shown. The authors of this study comment: “In our study, cocoa users consumed less meat and coffee; consumed more dairy, sugar confectionary, cookies, and savory foods; and were more likely to use alcoholic drinks and nuts and seeds.” That’s a real mixed bag. I would expect that some would contribute to health, other (sugar, cookies, less coffee) would contribute to worse health.

The authors give a number of reasons supporting causation of chocolate for health, among them the exclusion of men with chronic disease at baseline, those who took anti-hypertensive drugs, and the fact that the other foods associated with chocolate consumption were not themselves associated with mortality.

How does chocolate lower mortality risk?

There are good reasons to believe that chocolate causes better health, but if we could find some mechanisms of action that buttressed this, that would make our belief stronger.

  1. Chocolate lowers levels of myostatin and increases grip strength in humans, as well as causes fat loss in lab animals. All of these could be expected to improve health and prolong life. Lower myostatin causes longer life in mice. Muscular strength is associated with lower mortality.
  2. Rats that are fed cocoa live 11% longer than those not fed cocoa.
  3. Chocolate is an exercise mimetic.
  4. Chocolate chelates and removes iron.
  5. Chocolate activates AMPK, the cellular energy sensor which promotes long life.

How to get the right amount of chocolate

As noted above, the men in the highest tertile of chocolate consumption ate about 10 grams daily, which is about one tenth a standard size bar of dark chocolate.

Is eating more better? One epidemiological study suggested that no, it wasn’t, but I’m skeptical. If chocolate works by the mechanisms listed above, then more should be better.

Regular chocolate has large amounts of sugar, so one needs to be careful about that. You could get raw cacao nibs – no sugar, nothing but cacao, chocolate’s essential ingredient.

Besides eating a handful of dark chocolate chips after dinner, I like to drink hot chocolate made from cocoa only, no sugar. A heaping teaspoon has about 10 grams of cocoa, just the amount eaten by the men in the highest tertile of consumption. Bonus: that amount has only 20 calories, and contains caffeine and theobromine, both stimulants, so it’s perfect for drinking during intermittent fasting. It’s this stuff:


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29 comments
Timo Fischer says January 5, 2016

Awesome news since I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate! Hope to see more studies in the future.

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Andrew says January 5, 2016

So cocoa alone will not end a fast?

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    P. D. Mangan says January 5, 2016

    No, I’d say not, so long as no sugar is in it and massive amounts of the cocoa itself aren’t taken.

    Reply
      BC says January 5, 2016

      This is a great question. I may have missed it, but do you have a post about things that stop/interrupt autophagy? I recall several posts about things that promote it, but a list of things to avoid when fasting would be very helpful in knowing what can be ingested without ending autophagy.

      Reply
        P. D. Mangan says January 5, 2016

        BC, things that stop autophagy are fairly simple, although you’re right, a post would be helpful. Basically anything that raises insulin, so that includes protein, carbohydrates, also things like BCAAs. Small amounts of fat will not, but larger amounts, I believe, will. Also the antioxidant vitamins C and E should be looked on with suspicion in this regard.

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          Rob H says January 5, 2016

          I for one would find a post on that very interesting Dennis. I take relatively large doses of pure fat during my 18 hour intermittent fast (ie a few scooped teaspoons of pure coconut oil and also of grass-fed butter) – ostensibly to minimise excessive muscle catabolism, as well as banishing any hunger pangs. I have not seen any research that says that consuming relatively larger amounts of pure fat would negatively imapct autophagy, so if you have seen something on this, I’m sure there are a lot of us who would find that very useful! Many thanks, Rob.

          Reply
Rob H says January 5, 2016

Avoid the ‘dutched’ (alkalized) cocoa powder, as apparently by removing the distinctive ‘bitter’ taste, the polyphenol content is very significantly reduced. Personally I go with 2 x squares (20 grams) of Lindt ‘90% Cocoa dark supreme’ chocolate each day: for a grand total of 1.4 grams of sugar. Tastes great, but not nearly as ‘moreish’ as milk chocolate. I hear Lindt also do a 99% cocoa extra dark chocolate for you guys in the US, but unfortunately not available here in the UK..

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    P. D. Mangan says January 5, 2016

    Thanks, Rob, don’t think I’ve heard of that before. I looked at my cocoa powder and it doesn’t say anything on the label about that. Is there a way to tell, is alkalized powder the default?

    Reply
      Rob H says January 5, 2016

      Hi Dennis, Yes, it should say on the back of the container and on the supplier’s website. For example, on the back of Green & Blacks Organic Cocoa Powder container (which I used to buy) it says:
      “Potassium Carbonate is commonly added to cocoa powder to balance out the acidity and bring out the rich chocolatey aromas. This is often referred to as ‘Dutching’ and has been used by chocolate makers for over 180 years.” As taken from UK grocer Tesco’s website: http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=250610609&gclid=CjwKEAiA8K20BRDetNv3p6DNhXwSJADSwa3tiIDbPh0lo5yPPmk3ZtUrRRxLfYJ1RUPh27UwATX8khoCXrTw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
      I’d suggest avoiding any cocoa with potassium carbonate in it!

      Reply
        Allan Folz says January 6, 2016

        Bummer about B&G and dutching. Their 85% bar has been my stand-by for literally years.

        Reply
          Rob H says January 7, 2016

          Hi Allan, It doesn’t appear that B&G dutch their 85% chocolate bar: the ingredients list (here in the UK) is as follows: Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Butter, Fat-Reduced Cocoa Powder, Raw Cane Sugar, Vanilla Extract. No mention of the potassium carbonate that they list on the ingredients on the back of their containers of cocoa powder. I’m not sure whether anyone reading this would know why that would be: I’m guessing because they add in a little sugar to the chocolate bars in order to mask the bitterness a bit, yet the cocoa powder product has no added sugar in it, and therefore ‘requires’ dutching in order to make the taste less bitter?

          Reply
Tuba says January 5, 2016

I’ve been eating 88% dark chocolate for years, and sometimes even bittersweet. Sweet chocolate is for women and wimps.

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philip says January 5, 2016

I put a heaping tbsp of cocoa powder in my oatmeal along with a scoop of whey. ~450 calories, 35 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber. One of my staple post-workout meals (add peanut butter if you want more calories!)

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    Kevin says January 24, 2016

    Thanks for the tip. I tried it and liked it very much. I used to eat oatmeal, but got really bored with the taste after I gave up adding sugar to it.

    Reply
Herman Rutner, M.S. says January 5, 2016

As mentioned by Rob dutching of cocoa powder involves treatment with strong alkali, mostly sodium hydroxide to destroy bitter but probably beneficial catechins as found in very bitter cocoa nibs. Most chocolate lovers prefer sweet chocolate and non dutched cocoa would require too much sugar to mask bitterness. Dutching is easy to detect by residual sodium listed on the label which should be zero sodium. If above zero like 5 mg it is inferior dutched cocoa. But potassium is not normally shown on the labels, meaning cocoa could have been deceptively dutched or damaged with potassium hydroxide or carbonate. TJ cocoa and their 500 g dark 72% cocoa chocolate ( a Best Buy at $5) and Hershey cocoa powder show zero sodium. Hershey customary service confirmed no dutching with either sodium or potassium. Worth contacting TJ for processing info.

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    P. D. Mangan says January 5, 2016

    Thanks, Mr. Rutner, that’s very useful information.

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Rob J says January 5, 2016

Interesting study. I typically buy and drink raw cacao powder, which I understand is different in how it is processed. Cacao is cold pressed from raw cocoa beans, where cocoa is the result of cacao roasted at high temperatures. But the above study looked at cocoa…so I wonder if there’s any real difference between the two and if the extra price for cacao is worth it.

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    P. D. Mangan says January 5, 2016

    I’ll take a wild guess and say that there may not be much of a difference in terms of health effects. Coffee also is roasted, and it doesn’t seem to hurt its benefits on health.

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Daniel F says January 5, 2016

Paul Jaminet did an excellent post on the health benefits of chocolate that also addressed the question of optimal dose.

From the study he was looking at, he concluded:

“11 kg/yr is an average of 30 g/day. So benefits are still increasing at that dose.”

The “benefits” of that particular study were actually the correlation of per capita chocolate intake to Nobel prize winners. Obviously, he was joking around with that a bit, but his larger point about health benefits and a potentially very high ceiling for health benefits remained.

http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2012/11/chocolate-what-is-the-optimal-dose/

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henk says January 6, 2016

as the name implies non-dutched cacoa is almost impossible to find in the netherlands, so this questions this study.

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    Stephen Werner says January 6, 2016

    Even if this Dutch study did have (nearly) 100% consumption of Dutched chocolate only, the results are still the results. So, the study itself would not be “in question”, only whether or not the chocolate consumed by those studied was alkali-processed or not.

    If all of the participants in the study consumed exclusively Dutch chocolate, then the only possible question would be whether or not the same results might have be seen at lower levels of non-Dutch chocolate intake in another population. (Good luck finding a population in which non-Dutch chocolate would be the only chocolate consumed)

    Reply
BillyPilgrim says January 6, 2016

This explains why I do so well with supplements of THC and chocolate.
Seriously, as things get de-criminalized, the stats are building up that THC supplements are powerful tools in avoiding heart disease, cancer, neurological problems, emotional illness and something else – I’ve forgotten..
Marinol, Beethoven, chocolate, sex … life is good. Happy New Year!

BillyPilgrim

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    P. D. Mangan says January 6, 2016

    Happy New Year to you, Billy!

    Reply
Master A. Bonafide says January 7, 2016

Currently I am experimenting with making my own ‘chocolate bits’ made of cocoa powder with coconut oil (good fats), artificially sweetened whey (protein) and a number of other things, such as Psyllium husks (inexpensive fiber), some kind of pure nut paste, cream, and can add other pieces like coconut flakes or nut or even coffee (haven’t tried the later). The results are great so far. Coconut oil goes hard with cool temperatures like the fridge, so they are easy to eat out of the fridge too. And it tastes as sweet as chocolate but without the sugar.

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    Stephen Werner says January 8, 2016

    I’ve been doing something similar, using coconut oil, cocoa powder, and peanut butter/almond butter. I use an unflavored whey protein powder, and honey as my sweetener. I use some combination of oats, flax seeds, chia seeds (milled in a coffee mill), and powdered inulin for fiber. I roll the stiff paste in chopped nuts to form rolls, which I then refrigerate.

    Another thin I like to do with cocoa and coconut oil is to melt the coconut oil (1 or two tablespoons) and mix a heaping teaspoon full of cocoa powered into it. To this mixture, I add coffee, and then I blend this to form an emulsion which helps keep the cocoa suspended in the coffee. (This is my fasting coffee on days I’m on an intermittent fast).

    I am very, very leary of most artificial sweetners (aspartame being just the worst of the bunch). Thus, I use stevia as a sweetner, as It is unlikely to have any insulin producing effect. But, I don’t use the commercial stuff like Truvia (which contains Erythritol, which might cause insulin secretion). I get pure stevia from Powder City, which is a substantially cheaper way to get it, as well.

    Reply
Deutschmann says January 25, 2016

Under your “SUPPLEMENTS BUYING GUIDE FOR MEN”, it would be really appreciated if you would write more about the optimal levels of the vitamins, minerals etc. For example the relationship between magnesium, calcium, vitamin d and vitamin K, and how much to take of each to reach optimal levels.

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    P. D. Mangan says January 25, 2016

    OK, thanks, good idea. In most of the links to others sources on that page, you should be able to find dosages, but it would be helpful to have them on the supplements page.

    Reply
Rampart says June 24, 2016

Mr. Mangan,

Great blog. Your Breviary blog was also good, but you have found your true niche with health/fitness writing.

Not sure if there are Giant supermarkets near you, but they also sell very cheap “unprocessed” Cocoa powder. NON-dutched, unprocessed cocoa powder is also a bit unsoluble in water, which is a good indicator that you’re eating the good, useful kind.

(Actually one reason we began alkali/dutching of cocoa was to increase its solubility in water. Of course, this ruins the important health benefits.)

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    P. D. Mangan says June 25, 2016

    Thanks, Rampart, glad you like the place, and thanks for the useful information.

    Reply
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