Chocolate Power: The Science Behind the Bittersweet Treat That Mends Your Mind and Muscle

June 27, 2017
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You probably heard this at some point: chocolate isn’t good for you. People would say that chocolate causes tooth decay, obesity, and even diabetes.

Well, to an extent, these claims may be true if you are consuming milk chocolate filled with sugars. Especially if you overeat or do not take care of your body. However, what many people do not know is that chocolates have far more health benefits compared to its disadvantages.

Introducing Epicatechin

Before we start, let’s just get one thing straight. When we say “chocolate,” we mean the dark, bittersweet, minimum 70% type of chocolate and not the sugary, milk chocolate kind.

Dark chocolate is just another kind of chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao. Typically, it has not been alkalized so the beneficial substances are preserved.

So what makes dark chocolate good for you? The answer to that is a substance called epicatechin.

Epicatechin is a bioactive compound classed under the flavonol group. Being a plant-based phytochemical substance, it is commonly found in different plant sources including the cacao tree aka Theobroma cacao. Different sources contain different trace amounts of epicatechin. But of all known epicatechin-containing plant sources, the raw or pure cocoa contains the largest amounts of epicatechin with quantities of almost 3mg for each gram cocoa.

The following are some of the most common health advantages of chocolate.

Enhanced Muscle Growth

When improving muscle mass, one should be aware of a protein compound called myostatin as it greatly contributes to the rate and intensity of muscle growth.

Myostatin is produced by myocytes in the muscle and essentially functions to prevent hypertrophy or overgrowth of muscles. The higher the amount of this substance in the body, the more difficult it is to increase muscle size, even when accompanied by intensive workouts and proper diet.

The epicatechin in chocolate help in this situation by inhibiting the production of myostatin, thereby lowering its overall level. As result, it will be easier and faster for the muscles to grow without acquiring any negative side effects.

Additionally, epicatechin in chocolates are also found to stimulate follistatin. Follistatin is a protein substance that plays a role in countering the effects of myostatin. It keeps in check the myostatin-signaling pathways in the body, thereby allowing enhanced muscle fiber building.

Increased Testosterone Levels

A study conducted by scientists revealed that epicatechin in chocolate also helps in the increase of testosterone levels in the body. When ingested, epicatechin stimulates the pituitary gland which is an organ responsible for releasing some of the most important hormones in the body. And after stimulation, this organ increases its release of hormones known as LH (luteinizing hormone), and GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone). These hormones subsequently signal the testosterone-producing organs in the body such as the testes, ovaries, and adrenal glands to produce more testosterone.

So what does this mean for you? Testosterone aids in building lean muscle mass. Additionally, it also improves a person’s overall bone and muscle strength. For reproductive purposes, it also plays a role in increasing and maintaining a desired libido level.

In men, testosterone specifically functions to help in the development of dominant male characteristics such as facial and body hair, deep voice, and masculine behavioral traits. Testosterone is also found in women, albeit in lower amounts. Despite that, this hormone also affects women in terms of increasing sexual arousal, improving metabolism, and enhancing energy production.

Improved Blood Circulation

The higher the amount of epicatechin in the body, the more nitric oxide is produced. This is the reason why chocolate is known to be a good natural improver of circulatory functions.

Nitric oxide is synthesized in the body to serve as a vasodilator. This means it widens blood vessels — the veins and arteries — thereby accommodating more blood and promoting healthier blood flow to various organs.

When blood vessels are dilated, a higher amount of oxygen- and nutrient-carrying blood can be delivered to different body tissues. As a result, it encourages normal functioning of vital organs, more efficient metabolism, as well as increased muscle growth. In the testes, improved circulation translates to healthier Leydig cells, contributing to increased testosterone production.

If you are a bodybuilder, you can also take chocolate or epicatechin supplements before and after a workout as a means to improving stamina, strength, resistance, and recovery.

Amplified Sensitivity of Cells to Insulin

Another effect of epicatechin found in chocolate is that it significantly improves cell’s responsiveness to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It aids in the absorption and usage of glucose in the blood. Moreover, it also plays a role in the conversion of glucose into glycogen or fats.

When cells are responsive to insulin, the normal blood glucose in the body is maintained. As such, diabetic tendencies will be prevented. And when glucose is readily absorbed by different tissues through the aid of insulin, sufficient energy will be supplied for them to maintain their normal functions.

Furthermore, body parts under stress or work overload will be given extra energy to prevent fatigue and promote growth. For example, during workouts, muscles will have sufficient energy to lift weights, recover its strength, as well as increase its mass.

Additionally, with the help of insulin, surplus glucose in the body is converted into glycogen or fats and is deposited in the liver and other body parts. These glycogen and fats serve as backup energy in case of starvation and stress.

Appetite Suppression

It’s hard to believe but something as delicious as chocolates can actually reduce food cravings. This is because epicatechin in chocolates increases the production of a hormone known as ghrelin.

This hormone signals the satiety center of the brain to calm food cravings as well as inhibit hunger pangs. As a result, you are not likely to find yourself wanting to eat unless it is really necessary. This is especially useful for those who are on a strict diet, on a quest to lose weight, and those who are working out.

Conclusion

Dark chocolates are not at all unhealthy. As discussed, they bring a variety of benefits to the human body when consumed. However, just like anything, when consumed excessively in it’s sugar laden forms, chocolate could bring about undesirable repercussions. So anyone consuming chocolate for its epicatechin content should make sure what they buy has a cacao content of at least 70% to derive any benefits of this amazing food.

Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on The Ultimate Guide to Manly Cooking or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.