The best drink that I have ever tasted in my life wasn’t a cold beer or a full bodied wine; it was a paper cup of dark hot chocolate at Kollar Chocolates on Washington Street in the town of Yountville. (Their passion fruit truffle was also particularly outstanding!) I love dark chocolate. And I mean seriously love dark chocolate! There are wine people, craft beer experts, kambucha fans, but for me, dark chocolate is where it’s at. Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco is, for me, hallowed ground.
The other night, as I found myself in search of a dark chocolate late night snack, it occurred to me that I should look into how dark chocolate is good for the skin… somewhat to help my patients and somewhat to justify my vice! So this is my attempt to validate my dark chocolate habit as healthy. Enjoy!
It turns out dark chocolate has been studied A LOT. Particularly with regard to cardiovascular health. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols called flavonoids. They have been celebrated for their antioxidant effects. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols that induce the release of nitric oxide (NO) through activation of endothelial NO synthase. This can dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure and may be cardioprotective. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 reported a decrease in hypertension prevalence from 86% to 68% of their study population during an 18 week trial with consumption of between 6 and 7 grams of dark chocolate per day. White chocolate did not result in this decrease, and the study omitted the fact that white chocolate is also not as yummy.
But that was just one study. The Cochrane Database Review is considered the gold standard for determining whether the sum total of published studies have identified discoveries that are real and significant. A Cochrane Database Review found that dark chocolate “may have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure by 2-3 mm Hg in the short term.” Not exactly strong words, but, when it comes to dark chocolate, I will take what I can get.
What about dark chocolate and the skin? Researchers Calzavara-Pinton and colleagues were able to demonstrate that a dark chocolate extract taken every day for a week made it more difficult for study participants to sunburn – they suggest that dark chocolate may be photoprotective. So practicing sun-safety means sun-protective clothing (check), sunscreen (check) and eating dark chocolate (triple check). Got it.
There is also a hot area of research about connections between gut health and skin health. Researchers increasingly believe that different types of intestinal bacteria may have either a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effect, and some studies suggest that dark chocolate may help shift our gut bacteria towards an anti-inflammatory milieu.
Just as importantly, the International Journal of Dermatology found that regular consumption of moderate amounts of dark chocolate worsened a number of male teenagers’ acne. Thank goodness. This is excellent news for parents like myself whose spouses scold them for not sharing their chocolate-based desserts with their children more generously. Dark chocolate is expensive, and my future teenage boys have no business raiding dear old dad’s pantry and eating all of his chocolate, and now science has proven it. So adults everywhere, keep calm and eat dark chocolate!
If you or a loved one hasn’t eaten enough dark chocolate, please consider Premier Dermatology and Mohs Surgery for your skin care needs. Dr. Brent Taylor is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon, board-certified dermatologist, vein expert and dark chocolate lover.