Health News of Saturday, 27 July 2013

Source: Kojo Cobba Essel

Cocoa – all our health needs in a pod?

Long before oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Ghana, Cocoa faithfully provided us not only with money but fame as well since we have always remained a major exporter of cocoa. Little wonder that in some countries chocolate made from Ghana’s premium cocoa is highly desired and costs an arm and a leg.
We have described “laughter as the best medicine”, “walking as the greatest medicine” and “exercise as the wonder-pill” and it may be time to start a search for the super food that can share these accolades. Could Cocoa be the answer?
If you love cocoa for all the good it does for Ghana, then you are not alone; your heart and blood vessels love cocoa too. Dear chocoholics take it easy though because chocolate especially the dark variety may also be beneficial when taken in moderation but refining processes that add loads of sugar and milk may erode some of the wonders. It’s akin to turning brown bread to white bread or brown rice to polished perfumed white rice.
My good friend Albion is passionate about several indigenous plants, a perfect example being “Asaaba” the miracle berry plant that is fast being “adopted” by the western world. It is about time we patronized more of our products that have been proven to be beneficial. Well, very soon cocoa may also follow a similar path if we do not claim it.
I came across a leaflet listing the many benefits of cocoa and my first reaction was “Oh No! Not the one cap fits all theory again” but after a closer look I realized many of the benefits were actually derived from its antioxidant properties; a benefit that is recognized world-wide by many authorities in health.
Do not get overexcited and begin to imagine discarding your medicines. Cocoa taken in moderation serves only as a supplement and NOT a replacement for your medication if your doctor has already put you on one. Some research has been done on dosing in some conditions but hold on for now and use for prevention or to supplement your medicines for optimal outcome.
The antioxidant in cocoa that is at the centre of its quest for being considered a super food is also found in red wine, green tea, several fruits and vegetables and so it is not surprising that it has some anti-cancer/cancer prevention properties.
This same antioxidant also increases the good cholesterol (HDL) in our blood and hence prevents the formation of plaques in blood vessels that may cause narrowing or blocking of these vessels supplying essential nutrients to vital organs and various parts of the body. This seemingly simple process opens the floodgate of blessings such as:
• Reducing blood pressure
• Reducing heart attack and stroke risk
• Improving brain function – why not when it is getting good nutrients
• Boosting sexual desire and performance – this is a function of the brain and good blood flow.
• Providing energy and vitality – this general improvement in health may also boost fertility.
• Delaying physical signs of aging – great looking skin for instance from great blood circulation.
Well the magnesium in cocoa may be beneficial to those with various challenges during their menses. In a fast paced world taking a break to sip a warm mug of cocoa gives you time to catch your breath and manage stress especially if you picture all the great things happening in your body.
Years ago when I was studying in Medical School, some of my colleagues had the benefit of eating chocolate (for free) and using a chewing stick to clean their teeth as part of research to determine the benefits of cocoa (and chocolate I guess) on teeth. I believe the outcome was that cocoa prevents dental decay to a large extent. That does not give you the license to avoid taking care of your mouth and teeth just because you drink a little cup of cocoa a day. You may end up with hardly any teeth and be sentenced to meals of “koko sakora” (porridge with no additives and not even bread). Though the doctor (now a professor) supervising the research was said to be my look-alike, I never benefited from these chocolate breaks. Maybe it would have boosted by brainpower and made me a better student. Prof, I bear you no grudge though.
Cocoa has even been linked to a reduction in the risk factors for diabetes, a disease which is itself a major risk factor for heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) diseases. I believe more work is going on in this area.
Even the husk of cocoa is reported to have been used in preparations that help in the management of constipation especially in children. This function may be attributed to the fibre content. Dear reader do not try any funny concoctions please, limit yourself to a pure cocoa drink a day, or a regular treat of a cube of dark chocolate.
Chocolate has been associated with romance for centuries and at the centre of this is the heart. Well now we are discovering that the cocoa in chocolate is heart-friendly. Enjoy cocoa products, especially those with minimal refining. Consume in moderation and remember that it does not replace exercising but complements it, neither is it a substitute for your medication but rather it acts as a supplement.


Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel
Moms’ Health Club

*Dr Essel is a medical doctor and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy and fitness nutrition.

Thought for the week – “imagine your food as part of your body, and let that inform your choices. Do you want to be built of and powered by junk food?”
1. Information from National Committee For The Promotion Of Cocoa Consumption