Chocolate health benefits challenged

May 7, 2013 

Q: Is there any evidence for the health benefits of chocolate? From what I've read, there have never been true randomized studies.

Some ingredients in cocoa are probably good, but all that sugar really negates the benefits. I love chocolate, too, but with all the massive obesity around us, do people need another excuse to stuff their faces with chocolate?

Maybe the answer is to get high-polyphenol cocoa and add it periodically to food.

A: There have been many randomized studies of dark chocolate or its antioxidant ingredients, cocoa polyphenols. They have consistently shown that cocoa polyphenols lower blood pressure and reduce insulin resistance (The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, March, 2013). In addition, an eight-week double-blind trial in 90 elderly people showed that consuming 990 mg of cocoa flavonoids daily in a drink had benefits for cognitive function (Hypertension, September 2012).

Your idea of using high-polyphenol cocoa is good. CocoaVia is one such product.

Q: My blood level of vitamin D (16) is very low. A few years ago, I was prescribed 50,000 IUs once a week, but I had to quit after just one month. It caused severe acid reflux that took me several months to get under control.

I'd feel a lot better if I could get my vitamin D levels up, but how can I manage that with my hypersensitive stomach? Using acid suppressors over a period of time creates a rebound reflux that really makes things worse. I'd appreciate any suggestions you can offer.

A: With such a low level of vitamin D in your body, you would feel better if you could bring it up. Low vitamin D has been linked to asthma, infections, depression, joint pain, heart disease and high blood pressure, among other problems.

You might want to try a lower dose of vitamin D-3 to see if you can tolerate it. The earlier medication you took was vitamin D-2. Vitamin D-3 is available OTC in doses such as 1,000 or 2,000 IU.

Now that spring is here, you might also want to get 15 or 20 minutes a day of sun exposure.

Q: I get infections (impetigo) inside my nostrils a few times a year. This is painful and usually takes three weeks for complete healing.

A friend suggested using tea tree oil. It immediately took away the sting and sharp pain. Within 24 hours, I had healing. I continue to use the tea tree oil for a few days to make sure the impetigo is gone.

A: Australian tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is active against several different germs, including Staphylococcus aureus, which causes impetigo (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, September 2011). It also has been tested against a few other nasties, such as Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the yeast Candida albicans.

We appreciate your testimonial, but caution others to test the product on the inner forearm first before putting it in a sensitive place such as the nostril. Tea tree oil can sometimes be irritating (International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, January 2012).

Joe and Teresa Graedon, authors of "Favorite Home Remedies," answer questions from readers via www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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