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THE DARK SECRET OF CHOCOLATE & WHY IT’S NOT THE HEALTHY SUPERFOOD IT’S CLAIMED TO BE.

Chocolate and raw cacao is often promoted as a health-giving treat, packed with antioxidants. But that’s not the whole story. Apart from high levels of fat and refined sugar, chocolate also contains caffeine, which can be highly disruptive to your physical and mental health.

Read on to find out 10 alarming health facts about caffeine* that the chocolate industry doesn’t want you to know about.

 

1. Caffeine in chocolate gives you stress, not energy.

Many people believe that caffeine containing foods or drinks such as coffee, tea, matcha or dark chocolate/raw cacao, give you ‘natural’ healthy energy. However, the truth is quite the opposite, and these very substances that people turn to for energy are often a major cause of their fatigue.

Research has shown that caffeine increases the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline in your body, and puts it in a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, similar to that experienced during acute stress. It increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, spikes your blood sugar and insulin levels, gives you a dopamine kick and blocks your adenosine receptors.

This stress reaction gives you a temporary feeling of being energized, only for it to be followed by an energy ‘crash’ and increased fatigue, once the effects wear off.

This often leads to a vicious cycle: in order to ‘re-energise’ you resort to more caffeine containing foods or drinks, and as time goes by, you need to consume more and more of these stimulants to achieve the same energy ‘high’.

When the stress that caffeine automatically induces in your body and mind is coupled with other stressors in life (eg. work, relationship problems etc.), their effects are multiplied - making you even more stressed and less able to cope.

Stress sabotages your health on many levels, and caffeine – wherever it comes from - is not your ally if you want a healthy body and mind.

 

2. Caffeine spikes your blood sugar and insulin levels - beware if you’re after sustained, dependable energy.

It’s common knowledge that refined sugar and other highly refined carbs cause blood sugar and insulin spikes that wreak havoc with your health. But what often isn’t reported or discussed is that research has shown that caffeine does this too.

Therefore, the caffeine naturally present in coffee, tea (black, green, matcha) and chocolate/raw cacao will still spike your blood sugar and insulin levels even if you consume them sugar-free.

This is how:

As caffeine stimulates a ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response in your body, it releases adrenaline, just as if you were facing a real danger. When your body is in this mode, it thinks it needs more blood sugar in order to cope with the threat, which causes your liver to take action and rapidly raise your blood sugar levels, giving you an initial ‘lift’.

Your body then releases insulin to clear the excess, with the result that now your blood sugar level may become too low. This can cause tiredness, irritability, low mood, lack of energy and concentration, lethargy etc.

To ‘re-energise’ from that miserable feeling, you reach for another caffeine hit and so the vicious cycle continues. If you’re longing for sustained, dependable all-day energy, avoid not only refined sugars but anything with caffeine too!

 

3. Caffeine messes with your moods - avoid if you’re after a calm, peaceful mind.

Unpleasant states of mind, such as irritability, anxiety, anger, lack of concentration, impatience and mood swings are all symptoms that caffeine can cause or make worse.

Like many other addictive drugs, studies show caffeine artificially increases the brain’s dopamine production – the chemical released when you do things that feel good or pleasurable or when you complete a task.

However, this caffeine-induced boost is only short-lived and once it has worn off your brain tries to protect itself by becoming less sensitive to dopamine. This means that, as time goes by, your brain will need more and more caffeine to feel any uplifting effects, whilst your body becomes increasingly stressed and fatigued.

In addition, caffeine also disrupts the normal metabolism of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), low levels of which have been linked to anxiety and panic attacks.

Around 90% of the world’s population consume caffeine in one form or another, whilst mental health disorders and the use of anti-anxiety drugs are on the rise. In the natural/health food world, people often get their caffeine hit from consuming dark chocolate/raw cacao believing it’s good for them, then end up reaching for ‘natural anti-anxiety’ products such as CBD oil in an attempt to feel calmer.

However, this is counter-productive and equivalent to driving with one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the break - whilst CBD oil may help calm the body and mind, as a nervous-system stimulant, the caffeine in chocolate/cacao acts in direct opposition and is often the very cause of anxiety.

Whilst coffee, tea and cacao have been hailed as healthy because of their antioxidant content, the caffeine in them has a highly disruptive effect on your brain and nervous system.

It’s worth noting that antioxidants are abundantly available from countless common fruits and vegetables, along with a multitude of vitamins and minerals and other vitality-packed benefits! If you want a truly peaceful mind and more stable moods, kick the caffeine.

 

4. Caffeine disrupts your sleep – the foundation of a healthy body and mind.

When we are tired, a brain chemical called adenosine tells our brain to slow down, in order for us to go to sleep and let our minds and bodies rejuvenate.

Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine by hijacking the adenosine receptor sites and blocking the signals of sleepiness. It basically tricks the brain into thinking it’s wide-awake even when we are tired.

Whilst some people with caffeine in their system are able to sleep through the night, research has shown that it still deteriorates the quality of deep sleep.

Therefore, caffeine makes sleep less restorative and revitalising - whether you’re able to fall and stay asleep through the night or not.

A good night’s sleep is the foundation for all mental and physical health. It’s more potent than any other substance for long-term vitality, healthy weight management, anti-aging and wrinkle prevention so you should definitely prioritise your ‘beauty sleep’ and not jeopardise it with caffeine.

 

5. Caffeine wrecks your adrenals - your energy and vitality glands.

The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Their efficient function is incredibly important for your health and vitality and they are responsible for producing or contributing to the production of numerous essential hormones.

Caffeine puts additional pressure on your adrenals and triggers them to produce the stress hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which create a ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response in your body.

Regular consumption of caffeine constantly stresses your adrenals and can overburden and exhaust them, leading to debilitating adrenal fatigue. If your adrenals are fatigued, your whole body and mind feel exhausted, stressed and drained even after a decent night’s sleep.

Conversely, when your adrenals are strong and healthy, you can take on the day’s trials and tribulations full of energy and vitality.

So take care of these tiny heroes of the body and avoid the unnecessary stress created by caffeine.

 

6. Caffeine reduces blood flow to your brain – which is terrible news for memory, mood or learning.

Research has shown that caffeine constricts blood flow to your brain, as it interferes with the normal relaxation of blood vessels in the brain.

One such study showed a drastic 30% decrease in blood flow to the brain after a dose of 250mg caffeine (approx. 2-3 regular cups of filter coffee) was given to the participants.

Researchers have also found that caffeine reduces the oxygen level of brain tissues, which impedes optimal brain function.

Decreased cerebral blood flow and reduced oxygen levels are bad news for memory, mood or learning and can exacerbate all kinds of emotional or mental health issues.

 

7. Caffeine can cause weight gain.

Caffeine is a disruptive stimulant that can contribute to weight gain in various ways:

  • Caffeine increases the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Overexposure to this stress hormone is directly and positively correlated with abdominal fat and weight gain.
  • Caffeine can cause substantial fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. This often leads to food cravings and makes it more difficult to resist unhealthy quick-fix foods.
  • Caffeine messes up your sleep. Studies have shown that not getting enough good quality sleep plays havoc with your ‘hunger control’ hormones and compromises impulse control within the brain, making you gain weight much easier. With short sleep your body also hangs on to more fat, preventing effective weight loss when dieting.

 

8. Caffeine can lead to premature ageing.

When we’re young, our bodies produce high levels of DHEA - a hormone that’s associated with youth, sex drive and smooth skin. As we age, our DHEA levels start to decline (this actually starts from around our mid-twenties onwards).

Caffeine, however, can reduce this ‘youth hormone’ too and thereby accelerate the aging process.

This is because DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands, which caffeine can over-burden, preventing them from producing optimal amounts of this important hormone.

To make matters worse, caffeine’s negative impact on sleep quality makes it less restorative, further restricting your body’s natural capacity for rejuvenation.

 

9. Caffeine stresses your liver – the body’s detoxifier.

The liver is a miraculous organ, responsible for a vast number chemical functions and detoxification in the body.

Along with detoxifying and neutralising countless other toxic troublemakers (absorbed through water, air, food and the environment), it’s your liver that takes the burden of reducing the disruptive effects of caffeine in your system too.

If you’re consuming caffeine on a regular basis, you’re piling further toxic load on this amazing organ, which can have far-reaching effects on your overall health and vitality.

 

10. Caffeine can impact PMS, menopause symptoms and fertility.

A number of studies have been carried out over the years on the effects of caffeine on the reproductive system and wellbeing during various life-stages. Here are some top line facts:

PMS
Research has shown that the presence and severity of PMS is strongly correlated with caffeine consumption: basically the more you consume, the worse your PMS symptoms are likely to be. Ironically, to deal with PMS symptoms (such as mood swings, irritability, low mood etc.), many women reach for caffeine-containing ‘comfort foods’ like chocolate/raw cacao - the very substances that make the problem worse. If you suffer from PMS, you could try eliminating all caffeine from your diet for a few months to see the improvement.

Menopause
Studies show that caffeine can have a significant impact on how you feel during menopause.

  • Caffeine is associated with hot flushes Research shows that eliminating caffeine can help reduce both the number and intensity of hot flushes.
  • Caffeine is associated with decreases in levels of oestradiol The more caffeine you consume, the lower your oestradiol, a form of oestrogen. This means you’re more likely to experience negative changes associated with low oestrogen production.
  • Caffeine can lower blood levels of bioavailable testosterone in women, and raise levels of sex hormone binding globulin. Testosterone plays a significant role in libido and sense of strength, and these hormone changes can result in decreased zest for life.

Fertility & Pregnancy
It’s well known that caffeine consumption during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, fetal loss (baby dying in utero), premature delivery and fetal growth retardation. But caffeine consumption can also affect your fertility and chances of getting pregnant too. Research has shown a clear dose-response effect: the more caffeine you consume, the less likely it is that you will conceive in a given month.

Prostrate
Prostate cancer risk has been found to be directly linked to intake of theobromine, a stimulant closely related to caffeine and present in chocolate/cacao in abundant quantity. In one study, men who consumed high levels of theobromine had more than twice the risk of prostate cancer compared to men who consumed very little of this substance.

 

*Sources: Caffeine Blues – Stephen Cherniske; Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker; Anthony William, medicalmedium.com; Natural Highs – Patrick Holford & Dr Hyla Cass.
Main image by Samantha Hurley from Burst

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