Ode to Dark Chocolate: The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate for Aging Skin
Dark Chocolate’s Health Benefits Include Skin Health
No website or blog on longevity medicine would be complete without a piece on aging skin, which includes UV-induced photodamage, loss of dermal matrix, and wrinkles. Of course, hormones, lifestyle, and sun exposure play a large role in how our skin ages, and we are covering those topics in other pieces. But I recently came across a series of articles highlighting the large beneficial effect of one of my favorite foods: dark chocolate!
Skin ages with the rest of our physiology, and there is an “intrinsic” aging which is inevitable, resulting from a rapid drop in collagen production, about a 28% drop in exfoliation, loss of subcutaneous fat, and other factors, all leading to skin that appears thinner and more translucent, and has lost strength and elasticity. However, photoaging, or “extrinsic” aging of the skin, is almost completely under our control. Extrinsic aging includes the wrinkles induced by UV light, the appearance of dark spots (uneven pigmentation), and some of the breakdown of the dermal matrix.
Cocoa has a long and interesting history as a human food. Growing research data has conclusively shown that cocoa phytochemicals (in the general class known as “flavonoids”) have clinically significant benefits on skin health and appearance. In fact, Cambridge University developed human trials showing that 7.5 grams of HIGH-QUALITY dark chocolate daily can alter the underlying skin structure of a 50-year-old to resemble someone in their 30s. They have spun off this research into a product that is heavily enriched in catechins and antioxidants, called “Esthechoc”. Other studies are referenced below, with the last one containing 54 references supporting the thesis that cocoa bioactive compounds do support and maintain skin health over time.
Cocoa’s Other Health Benefits
In addition to skin, cocoa benefits many other aspects of our physiology. Cocoa fat is mostly oleic oil (as in olive oil) and some palmitic and stearic acid. Some people on low-fat diets do need a small amount of these saturated fats since our microbiome is responsible for producing the small fats (like butyrate) that initiate our production of these longer-chain saturated fats, and our gut bacteria and fiber intake are known to be compromised. There are minerals present like magnesium, copper, iron, and potassium. One study showed that dark chocolate had more antioxidant power than any fruit tested. In addition, researchers have showed increased nitric oxide (reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow and oxygen delivery), reduction in oxidized LDL, and increased HDL. The flavanols can reduce insulin resistance as well.
How to Choose a Dark Chocolate
In general, there should be just a few ingredients; it requires only chocolate liquor or cocoa, a small amount of sugar, and cocoa butter to produce, and cocoa, not sugar, should be the first ingredient. It should be higher in cocoa, over 70%, and should NEVER contain milk and should NEVER say “alkali processed” or “Dutch-processed,” which deteriorates its antioxidant ability. Flavorings may be present, such as spices and herbs, and occasionally tiny amounts of lecithin, an emulsifier, are used, which is okay. Fairtrade and organic are best in terms of purity and quality of the beans and soil. Some examples of high-quality brands are Alter Ego, Pascha Chocolate, Antidote Chocolate, and Equal Exchange. There are many good brands and if you become a connoisseur you can subscribe to Bar and Cocoa, like my friend Alan, and receive several quality bars monthly from all over the world, but you’ll need to share! Keep in mind that one ounce of 70-80% dark chocolate will have around 170 calories, so for most of us, something will need to be “traded in” to make room!