Can chocolate have a positive influence on bone health? New review explores existing data

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / yacobchuk
Getty Images / yacobchuk

Related tags Cacao Chocolate

A review of published studies concerning chocolate consumption and bone health found that moderate chocolate intake was linked to greater longitudinal bone growth in adolescents, but little to negative bone effects for postmenopausal women.

These results came from researchers at West Virginia’s Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences in the US and the School of Nutrition at Ryerson University in Canada.

“Determining dietary recommendations for chocolate consumption relative to bone health is important because of the growing popularity of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, and an expected increase in consumption owing to suggestions of ​[chocolate’s] health benefits against various degenerative diseases,”​ the researchers argued in their paper​, published in the journal Nutrition.

Their conclusion came from a review and synthesis of five studies published between 1997 and 2015 that investigated the effect of chocolate consumption on bone health—a relatively short list of studies, reflecting the trend for chocolate researchers to focus more on the ingredient’s link to cardiovascular health due to its rich polyphenol content.

One notable finding was that post-menopausal women with daily chocolate intake were more at risk to bone density loss and related issues like osteoporosis compared to the general population. This stood in contrast with the correlation seen in children and teenagers, in which individuals who ate more chocolate were more likely to have greater bone growth.

The researchers were quick to add, however, that the studies they reviewed did not have one standard form of chocolate.

“The beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids and mineral content of chocolate on bone health may be outweighed by other components in chocolate such as oxalate, added cocoa butter, sugar, and methylxanthines with potential to exert adverse effects on bone health,”​ they reported.

“Based on flavonoid and mineral content, unsweetened cocoa powder appeared to be the best option, followed by dark chocolate with higher cocoa content, in terms of supporting and preserving bone health.”

Why it matters

Despite the low number of studies that have investigated chocolate’s role in bone health, the researchers thought it was an important topic to explore and continue to study because of the amount of conflicting information available to the public, such as media coverage, health policy, as well as food marketing that highlight chocolate as either a health food or health fiend

“The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list chocolate milk as a source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D,”​ they wrote.

“Moreover, both the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the 2019 Canada's Food Guide advise that due to its high sugar and fat content, chocolate bars should be at the top of the nutritional pyramid under fats, oils, and sweets that are to be used sparingly,”​ they added.

“Determining dietary recommendations for chocolate consumption and its implications for bone health and osteoporosis risk is a topic of importance given the widespread and growing popularity of chocolate consumption.”

Source: Nutrition
Published online ahead of print
“Chocolate and chocolate constituents influence bone health and osteoporosis risk”
Authors: Stephanie A. Seem

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