Chocolate…More Than A Comfort Food For Chronic Joint Pain and Arthritis

Chocolate is often thought of as a comfort food, but it may be beneficial for those living with arthritis. Studies indicate that chocolate products, especially those higher in percent cocoa or cacao, contain polyphenols that have powerful effects on joint tissues, making them a natural source of relief from the pain associated with arthritis and inflammatory joint pain conditions.

Chocolate is more than a comfort food.

Chocolate has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help reduce inflammation and promote healing in arthritic joints. The polyphenols it contains can also help the gut microbiome by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria that can reduce inflammation. They also help to neutralize the free radicals that can cause inflammation and damage to the joints.

Cocoa and cacao are both derived from the same plant, Theobroma Cacao. The beans from the Cacao plant are high in fiber, essential minerals such as manganese, magnesium, selenium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium, as well as antioxidants, theobromine, caffeine, and protein. So, overall, the beans from the cacao plant contain many compounds that provide multiple health benefits.

So, what’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Cocoa is the processed form of cacao beans and is what we typically see in commercial products such as chocolate bars. Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans and cocoa powder is made from roasting the beans while processing. The terms are often used inconsistently, although generally, the use of less processed, more natural forms may contain higher levels of antioxidants. 

When it comes to the benefits for those with arthritis, both cocoa and cacao can help reduce inflammation. Studies have found that consuming dark chocolate, which is lower in added sugar than other forms of chocolate on a regular basis can reduce levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Raw cacao, or cacao nibs (bits of fermented, dried, roasted, and crushed cacao beans) also contain powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can be beneficial for those with arthritis.

Chocolate has positive benefits on mood, insulin resistance, cardiovascular, and nervous system health. It promotes the release of nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which helps to dilate blood vessels. This promotes circulation and blood flow through the cardiovascular and nervous systems, thereby improving cognition, reducing blood pressure, and helping to prevent excessive blood clotting. It may even help reduce obesity through its impact on blood sugar, appetite hormones, and insulin. This is important in arthritis as obesity increases joint inflammation and pain.

Various components in chocolate, cocoa, or cacao may help with the pain response and work through different pathways. The flavanols present in cocoa beans have been found to improve circulation and reduce oxidative stress, both of which are essential for tissue repair and arthritis symptom relief. Research has also suggested that theobromine compounds and caffeine present in cocoa beans may act as a mild analgesic, providing pain relief without causing significant side effects or drug interactions. The opioid pathway is also one of the possible mechanisms by which cocoa may exhibit its analgesic action.

Chocolate can provide many health benefits

While chocolate should not replace other treatments for arthritis, it can be a helpful addition to an individual’s wellness routine. For those with arthritis, adding dark chocolate or cocoa powder to their diet may help reduce inflammation and improve joint health. However, it is important to note that the key to successful treatment lies in moderation — too much of this sweet treat could lead to weight gain and other health complications.  

Of course, while it is delicious, chocolate is not the only way to help soothe arthritic joints. Limiting foods that may trigger arthritis pain for an individual is also important. Examples of them can be found here. Because sugar can aggravate joint pain, a high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao, that is lower in sugar is more beneficial. The percentage tells you how much, by weight, is from pure cocoa beans.

Exercise is also an essential part of fighting chronic joint pain. Because exercise can be challenging for those with chronic pain, it’s helpful to know the reasons why exercise is important. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, or reducing stress can also help alleviate symptoms of arthritis. A little bit of good quality chocolate may even serve as a reward while working on those other changes to your lifestyle.

Overall, chocolate, cocoa, and cacao have the potential to provide a natural source of relief for those suffering from joint inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. While it is important to note that its effects should be taken in moderation, the potential benefits of this sweet treat should not be overlooked. With a combination of chocolate, exercise, and lifestyle changes, individuals can find natural relief from inflammatory joint pain and promote healing in their arthritic joints.  

For more help with diet and lifestyle modifications to support joint health and address chronic joint pain, get your free discovery call.  


De Feo M, Paladini A, Ferri C, Carducci A, Del Pinto R, Varrassi G, Grassi D. Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Nociceptive Effects of Cocoa: A Review on Future Perspectives in Treatment of Pain. Pain Ther. 2020 Jun;9(1):231-240. doi: 10.1007/s40122-020-00165-5. Epub 2020 Apr 20. PMID: 32314320; PMCID: PMC7203300.

Feo, M. D., Paladini, A., Ferri, C., Carducci, A., Pinto, R. D., Varrassi, G., & Grassi, D. (2020). Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Nociceptive Effects of Cocoa: A Review on Future Perspectives in Treatment of Pain. Pain and Therapy, 9(1), 231-240.

Magrone T, Russo MA, Jirillo E. Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications. Front Immunol. 2017 Jun 9;8:677. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677. PMID: 28649251; PMCID: PMC5465250.


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