Research Proposal: Ageless Benefits of Pure Dark Chocolate

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Chocolate Health

The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Chocolate may well be one of the rare consumables that belies the old assumption regarding that which is healthy and that which is enjoyable to eat. The conventional logic suggests that these two qualities rarely intersect. However, the larger body of research concerning the intake of cacao indicates that indeed there are uniquely beneficial health properties that might be associated with the consumption of certain types of chocolate, offering justification for further investigation of claims to the point. Before entering into this assessment, it is important to reflect briefly on the history of chocolate as something of importance to cultural and culinary history.

In the text by Coe & Coe (2000), the authors provide an exploration of the Mayan cultures which considered the cacao bean an item of sacramental importance in both social status and theological observation. Roughly three millennia ago, this culture flourished intellectually, infrastructurally and expressively. The artifacts which remain demonstrate that cacao was considered a divine fruit of god's bestowment. To the Mayans, cacao would possess deeply beneficial properties. Though we may only speculate today that there was some presence of mind for the Mayans to have identified truly medicinal properties, their association between consumption of the frothy beverage yielded by the bean and personal health or fortitude is certain. Based on our understanding of the Mayans as having given worship to an agriculturally driven and hierarchical structure of gods, it may be presumed that the association drawn had spiritual implications. While these implications are unrelated to our findings in the broader discussion, there may be some theoretical founding to the outcome of association for the Mayans. Namely, it may be appropriate to suggest that the deeply advanced ancient civilization had responded to observations of greater health, immunity and longevity in those whose diet regularly incorporate the bean.

It is perhaps this observation that had come over the course of later history to closely identify the consumption of the cacao bean with class division. Indeed, it would not be until the Victorian Era when the yielded product of chocolate would be begin to emerge in European society. Thus, when the delicacy had begun to appear regularly in a processed and commercial form, it would immediately become tied to the upper classes. The highly aristocratic society would, like the Mayan society before it, respond with something of an unwitting intuition to the beneficial properties of chocolate. Its value would be apparent in response to its decadent and, according to some theories hormonally seductive, effect on those who consume it. (Hudnall, 1)

This extremely concise history of cacao and chocolate emphasizes the always present assumption that chocolate is both delicious and beneficial to ones health. That stated, it is only a remarkably recent development in serious medical, nutritional and anatomically fields of science to both argue for and pursue an agenda of empirical research on the subject. In a very brief period of time however during the last decade alone, a vast array of investigatory claims have been posited on the subject. Largely, these have focused on illustrating the claim that polyphenols called flavonids, which are known to be contained in the cacao bean, are ingested to beneficial health effects by the consumer of chocolate.

Indeed, this does take the presumptive behavior of history's chocolate consumers into serious account. As Ding et al. (2006) tell, "Since ancient times, chocolate has long been used as a medicinal remedy [14] and been proposed in medicine today for preventing various chronic diseases [15,16]. While chocolate has also sometimes been criticized for its saturated fat content, mostly in the form of long-chain stearic acid, chocolate has also been lauded for its antioxidant potential." (Ding et al., 2) the argument which has justified so much genuine investigation is that the consumption of chocolate in the right manner, measure and purpose can help to obstruct the wide variance of frailties associated with aging. Anitoxidants such as the flavanoids contained in the polyphenol compound are said to be significant in preemptive resistance to immunity breakdowns that occur with later maturation and atrophy of the body.

According to Hannum & Erdman (2000), the dried cacao bean will contain a 15% weight content of polyphenol compounds and that roughly 60% of that will be composed of the antioxidizing flavanoids. (Hannum & Erdman, 73) the extent to which this ratio promotes the health effects desired in this discussion is not yet firmly established, even under the microscope of so much research. Still, much of this is attributable to the relative youth of this research endeavor. To this extent, Wollgast & Anklam (2000) note that "recently, polyphenols have gained much more attention, owing to their antioxidant capacity (free radical scavenging and metal chelating) and their possible beneficial implications in human health, such as in the treatment and prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other pathologies." (Wollgast & Anklam, 449)

This has of course prompted a cottage industry of exploration into the host of potential carriers of such beneficial compounds. Indeed, tea, wine and certain fruits and nuts have been suggested also to contain high levels of antioxidant capability. This has helped to justify the demand for further research in the area of chocolate. And to this juncture, "the body of short-term randomized feeding trials suggests cocoa and chocolate may exert beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk via effects on lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammation, anti-platelet function, higher HDL, decreased LDL oxidation." (Ding et al., 1) of course, much of the language used in the gathered research uses such terms as 'suggests' to deliver findings. This is because there is a recurrently reported incapacity to simply isolate the consumption of chocolate in such a manner as to deduce that methodology has prevented the intrusion of other lifestyle properties, hereditary factors and other nutritional decisions in one's longevity or immunity. The result is that few methodologies have yielded conclusions that ascertain without dispute that extent of the curative properties of chocolate. This produces the type of finding we are given in Wan's (2001) report, which tells that "little is known about how cocoa powder and dark chocolate, rich sources of polyphenols, affect these cardiovascular disease risk factors." (Wan, 596) and truly, much is believed but little can be said to be known.

A concentrations, and not adversely affecting prostaglandins." (Wan, 599)

Another issue largely effecting findings is the manner of the type of chocolate used or consumed. At the base of this research is the necessary understanding that dark chocolate, and not the more commonly found types in affordable and accessible markets such as the United States, is that which provides the beneficial properties suggested or hypothesized. According to Hannum & Erdman (2000), "the way in which the cacao beans are processed greatly influences the composition of the final products. Specifically, fermentation and treatment with alkali both reduce the flavinoid content of the final product." (Hannum & Erdman, 73). This means that a more highly refined and less commercially treated form of chocolate is necessary to realize what are likely to be the positive health factors related to the cacao bean. Referring back to such historically instances as the Mayans, we might once again speculate that the medicinal capacity of the bean was more immediately apparent due to the unprocessed form of their regular consumption.

In one of the more determined and affirmatively stated studies used in this discussion, Serafini et al. (2003) denote that "consumption of plain, dark chocolate results in an increase in both the total antioxidant capacity and the epicatechin content of blood plasma, but that these effects are markedly reduced with milk or if milk is incorporated as milk chocolate. Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate in vivo and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate." (Serafini et al., 1013) This point of distinction is a critical finding in our study, helping both to justify the limited success of prior methodologies and in offering the only empirical statement yet claimed on the subject.

Several things are rendered certain based on the body of literature here applied. Namely, we are told with reasonable certainty that flavanoids do promote antioxidant health properties. Moreover, we are told that cacao and specifically dark chocolate can be a rich source thereof. (Kris-Etherton & Keen, 41)

The research only leaves a door open for improvement of methodologies which either distill the experimental variable of cacao consumption from other lifestyle habits and personal attributes. A recommendation here is to gather a population of reasonably health adults with normative lifestyle and dietary habits and to compare the outcome of regular intake of the dark chocolate with a control population which is simply observed with regularity and no change in lifestyle. Mortality rates must be assessed across a significant scale of time such as a decade.

Works Cited

Coe, S.D. & Coe, M.D. (2000). The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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