Consuming to Control Pain: Chocolate and Red Wine
Consuming food can still be enjoyable, especially with the wonderful flavor of chocolate paired with a nice red wine. In fact, many advantageous health benefits can become a reality with such a pleasurable pairing. Besides the joy of eating something that tastes so good, both chocolate and wine have some serious nutritional powers with seemingly unending uses towards the prevention and treatment of diseases including chronic pain. These powers are rooted in the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in both chocolate and red wine.
Chocolate is rich in chemicals found in plants, in this case the cocoa bean. Because plants are constantly berated by the environmental elements, the chemicals found in plants, called polyphenols, are the primary defense mechanism for the plant. In turn, by consuming the plants, humans gain some of the same defenses against the elements by incorporating these powerful protective chemicals into our own chemical matrix.
Chocolate is very high in one particular polyphenol called flavanol, a powerful anti-oxidant known to prevent heart disease and strokes. Chocolate is also high in magnesium. The question of interest here is whether or not chocolate is also a powerful anti-inflammatory food to be included in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. In 2008, a study suggested that the C-reactive protein (CRP is a blood marker showing inflammation in the body) actually was lower in those who consumed chocolate daily. Yes, daily. Yipee But before you go skipping off to the candy store; remember chocolate loses its health benefits when combined with sugary things like caramel and marshmallow. Only small amounts of dark chocolate with the higher cocoa content can possibly help to reduce inflammation and pain.
Better yet, pair the chocolate with some red wine. Red wine is produced from grapes and contains this plants defense mechanism in the form of a polyphenol called resvecatrol. Only red wine has this powerful antioxidant because it comes from the skins which give wine the red color. According to the National Cancer Institute, resvecatrol has been shown to be powerful enough to suppress tumor growth in some of the recent animal studies. Cancer is just one application being studied. Others are looking into the anti-inflammatory potential of red wine. According to one study in 2005, one glass might not be enough to reduce the CRP. Two glasses might be better. Yippee! But before you go skipping to the liquor store; remember red wine contains alcohol which can be dangerous to mix with some of the medications you might already be taking. Please consult with your doctor before you add red wine to your anti-inflammatory diet.
The consumption of chocolate and red wine might partly explain the good health enjoyed by the French - the infamous French Paradox. But, why should the French have all the fun? If Americans are to eat more foods derived directly from plants, this should also include the pleasure of eating chocolate and red wine. A modest intake of flavanol and resveratrol could not only help to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease and stroke, but may also help reduce inflammation and pain. So, put some joy into your quest to eat better and feel better by adding a little chocolate and red wine. But not too much.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.