My menopause ABC: C…hocolate
Risk of cardiovascular disease
We have already discussed in many articles the risks of cardiovascular disease linked to menopause. Like here, for example, where we talked about the risks associated with early menopause.
But this recurring topic can totally makes sense if we consider that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the world and one of the major health risks in postmenopausal women. There is indeed a doubling of the frequency of coronary accidents in postmenopausal women.
This is why we thought it would be interesting to devote this chapter of our Menopause ABC to a food that not only can make our taste buds jump with joy, but is also an asset against cardiovascular disease.
We are of course talking about the one, the only, the delicious … chocolate.
A dark and white portrait
Cocoa and its derivative, chocolate, have been consumed by humans for millennia1. Originally from America, cocoa came to Europe in the 16th century.
Chocolate is high in fats, this is a known fact that has often hurt its « credentials » (who has never heard « eating chocolate makes you fat »).
But please, don’t panic, and remember that, as we have seen, the “right” type of fat can prove to be a real boon for our health, and chocolate, through cocoa butter, is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, aka « good » fats2. Talking about « fat », everything is once again a question of quality and quantity.
Chocolate is also rich in antioxidants, with a high concentration of flavonoids (epicatechin, catechin, procyanidins)2. The flavonoid content of cocoa is also among the highest, higher than that of green tea, for example3.
But not all chocolates are created equal: the higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits it will bring.
Dark chocolate has a much higher concentration in flavonoids than milk chocolate (more than twice as much) or white chocolate (three and a half times more)2.
Chocolate also contains methylxanthines (theobromine, caffeine), which are beneficial for the nervous system (as long as you avoid excess consumption of course).
These methylxanthines have anti-inflammatory effects and some studies have shown that they may have anti-tumor effects2.
Here too, the higher the cocoa content, the higher the caffeine and theobromine content. Dark chocolate contains four times more caffeine than milk chocolate, and more than six times more theobromine2.
Finally, chocolate is a source of minerals such as magnesium, zinc or iron3.
Proven benefits for health
Numerous scientific studies have shown the benefits of dark chocolate in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to the presence of the flavonoids mentioned above, the consumption of dark chocolate has a beneficial effect on reducing blood pressure and on the risk of cardiovascular events in general.
For example, a study published in 2009 showed that after their first episode of acute myocardial infarction, people who consumed 50 grams of chocolate or more per week were much less likely to die of cardiovascular causes than those who never ate chocolate.
Or take this 2015 study of nearly 21,000 people in the UK : it showed that the more chocolate you consume, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease or death from cardiovascular disease1.
Should we then rush to add (dark) chocolate to our weekly or even daily menu ?
Precautions are in order.
First of all, as we have seen, chocolate contains caffeine. Overuse can lead to risks such as tachycardia.
Finally, chocolate, rich in fats, is a caloric food: increasing its consumption indiscriminately to seek benefits in terms of reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease can lead to unwanted weight gain (one of the frequent ailments in postmenopausal women).
Eating dark chocolate must therefore be a pleasure which comes with :
- an exercise in moderation: in the 2015 study mentioned above the lower threshold for chocolate consumption was 15.6 grams per day
- physical exercise: one of the proven essentials for a « successful » menopause.
Are you interested in the experiences of women at different stages of their menopause? Would you like a reminder of the physiology of menopause and the main symptoms? Download our free ebook, Menopause Story(ies).
1: Erin Higginbotham, BS, Pam R. Taub, MD, FACC, « Cardiovascular Benefits of Dark Chocolate? », DOI 10.1007/s11936-015-0419-5
2: Maria Alessandra Gammone, Konstantinos Efthymakis, Francesca Romana Pluchinotta, Sonia Bergante, Guido Tettamanti, Graziano Riccioni, Nicolantonio D’Orazio, « Impact of chocolate on the cardiovascular health ». Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark. 2018. 23(5); 852-864
3: R. Latif, « Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review », The Netherlands Journal of Medecine, March 2013