As the medical reviews keep coming in, there's evidence that chocolate offers more than pleasure to the palate. It may meet a variety of needs, from kick-starting the libido to improving heart health.

Mood Enhancer?

In a recent finding, an Italian researcher says he has found an association between eating chocolate and sexual fulfillment. Women who love chocolate, he contends, seem to have better love lives.

Dr. Andrea Salonia of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan surveyed 153 women, between ages 26 and 44, using a standard female sexual function questionnaire among other lifestyle and psychological indices. He found that overall sexual function and sexual desire were significantly higher among the women who reported eating more chocolate than among those who were more likely to spurn chocolate. The chocolate-eaters also tended to be younger, with an average age of 35; while the women who rarely ate chocolate had an average age of 40.

"It seems alluring to hypothesize that chocolate can have a physiological positive impact over women's sexuality," says Salonia.

The theory may be the result of the more than 300 constituents of chocolate, including caffeine and a weaker stimulant, theobromine, that rev up mood.

Some experts contend that these two chemicals form the basis of the much-touted chocolate high, postulating that they increase the activity of key neurotransmitters. The stimulant phenylethylamine, which is related chemically to amphetamines, is also in chocolate.

However, Salonia says the dalliance between chocolate and sex is far from a sure thing. The study results may also be explained by the significant age difference of the women, an important factor in sexuality.

Heart Helper

In addition, dark chocolate is now believed to contribute to better heart health because of its high levels of flavonoids. In one recent study, eating dark chocolate—but not other types—was shown to improve indicators of a healthy heart, as measured by both ultrasound and blood tests.

In previous research, scientists noted that another group of heart-healthy antioxidants—phenolics, also found in red wine—are abundant in dark chocolate.

Disputing One Myth

Meanwhile, recent research has cleared chocolate as a cause of acne. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now states, "despite the popular belief that chocolate, nuts and other foods cause acne, this does not seem to be true."

In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, a group of acne patients was given a bar of "chocolate" liquor (the substance that's the base for all chocolate products).

Another group got real chocolate in a test bar with almost 10 times as much chocolate liquor as a normal 1.4 ounce bar. The acne neither improved nor worsened with chocolate or placebo.

At the US Naval Academy, another study looked at 80 midshipmen who had acne. One group ate chocolate, and the other abstained. After one month, careful observation showed no changes in their acne.

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