Although high in calories and fat, dark chocolate may actually benefit your health. Chocolate's effect on hormones can reduce stress and suppress appetite. Antioxidant flavanols found in dark chocolate may also reduce your risk for heart disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
In a 2009 study published in the "Journal of Proteome Research," Swiss researchers found that subjects who consumed 40 g of dark chocolate every day for a two-week period had reduced urinary excretion of stress hormones, including cortisol and catecholamines, indicating reduced production of these hormones in the body.
In a 2010 study published in "Regulatory Peptides," researchers found that eating dark chocolate and even just smelling dark chocolate had a direct impact on gastrointestinal hormones -- those that influence appetite. Female subjects who ate or smelled dark chocolate showed hormonal signs of appetite suppression. Merely smelling the dark chocolate produced a satiation response in subjects.
Many people believe that hormones cause chocolate cravings, particularly hormonal changes experienced by women before menstruation. Several studies have looked for links between chocolate cravings and the menstrual cycle. A 2004 study published in "Appetite" surveyed Spanish and American women and found that American women reported perimenstrual chocolate cravings more often than Spanish women. Both Spanish men and women reported experiencing chocolate cravings after eating and while studying, and both American men and women reported chocolate cravings in the evening. The researchers concluded that chocolate cravings have cultural, rather than physiological, bases. A 2009 study published in "Appetite" surveyed pre- and post-menopausal women to determine whether chocolate cravings reduced in proportion to hormonal changes. The survey found a much smaller decrease in chocolate cravings than a hormonal change would explain, leading them to conclude that female reproductive hormones alone do not cause perimenstrual chocolate craving.
Chocolate and Neurotransmitters
Chocolate impacts neurotransmitters as well as hormones, and this impact may be responsible for its psychopharmacologic effects in some people. Chocolate may balance low levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, according to the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association."
- "Journal of Proteome Research"; Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects; FP Martin, et al.; December 2009
- "Regulatory Peptides"; Appetite Suppression Through Smelling of Dark Chocolate Correlates with Changes in Ghrelin in Young Women; ET Massolt, et al.; April 2010
- "Appetite"; Chocolate Craving and the Menstrual Cycle; DA Zellner, et al.; February 2004
- "Appetite"; Perimenstrual Chocolate Craving. What Happens After Menopause?; JM Hormes, et al.; October 2009
- "Journal of the American Dietetic Association"; Chocolate: Food or Drug?; K Bruinsma, et al.; October 1999
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled