I have experienced chronic fatigue first hand; since a terrible bout of glandular fever in year 12, I’ve never felt the same. Daily activities are exhausting, physical or mental work can make the fatigue worse and it usually doesn’t improve with rest. It’s a complicated condition characterized by extreme fatigue thought to be caused by a variety of factors from viral infections to psychological stress. There are a few treatment options out there, but they don’t necessarily work for everyone.
From a nutritionist’s perspective, and someone who is still suffering from CFS today, I believe it is important to support all body systems (especially the nervous, digestive and circulatory systems) through nutritionally balanced meals and exercise. It’s also just as important to listen to your body.
The Chocolate Study
I stumbled across a journal article this morning that blew me away: ‘Chocolate may reduce the burden of symptoms in chronic fatigue syndrome.’ As if we need an excuse to eat more chocolate. I was skeptical at first as the study was funded by Nestle. However, reading into it further, it wasn’t a bad pilot study. It was a double blinded, randomised, clinical pilot crossover study which is pretty much the best you’ll get.
Subjects with severe fatigue (a score of at least 10 out of 11 on the Chalder fatigue scale) were given either a ‘fake’ chocolate bar or the real thing which contained 85% cocoa solids. The fake chocolate bar was essentially cocoa butter dyed brown with imitation chocolate flavouring.
The Chalder Fatigue score improved significantly in all patients after 8 weeks of the ‘real’ chocolate phase. Interestingly, when the patients switched over to the ‘fake’ chocolate for 8 weeks, their scores deteriorated.
As both types of chocolate had the same taste, similar glycemic indices and loads with the same amount of calories, it’s likely that the improvement was due to the high polyphenol content within the real chocolate rather than micro or macronutrient composition.
A Chocolate a Day…
The study used 15gm chocolate bars given to patients three times daily. Of course, no one should be eating this much chocolate everyday but you can probably get the equivalent dose of cocoa phytonutrients by consuming 2 1/2 tablespoons of cacao daily.
You can use cacao in smoothies, make your own chocolate, put it in your coffee or even mix it in with soaked oats for breakfast in the morning. I have a recipe for homemade almond butter raw chocolate on my instagram page, but if you’d like me to share it on here please let me know 🙂
Evidence suggests that oxidative stress contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms and flavanoids can protect cells against this type of stress. As dark chocolate is high in flavanoids, this could explain why patients felt better eating the 85% cocoa chocolate.
Other studies, like this one, have also shown that a particular flavanoid called epicatechin found in dark chocolate induces vasodilation in blood vessels and arteries. Maybe CFS sufferers feel better after eating chocolate because they have enhanced blood flow to the muscles and brain with improved circulation of nutrients? Or maybe they feel better more alert because chocolate also contains theobromine – a substance similar to caffeine. Just a thought.
What’s the difference between Cocoa and Cacao?
Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans, keeping the living enzymes intact. It’s also less processed than cocoa powder which is why I prefer it. Cocoa is raw cacao that has been roasted at a high temperature. Surprisingly, it still retains a large amount of antioxidants and is still beneficial for health.
There’s hope for chronic fatigue sufferers out there yet! This post isn’t intended to be a prescription for the treatment of chronic fatigue; it’s a presentation of research.
If you or anyone you know suffers from chronic fatigue and have any questions about it, feel free to comment below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a lovely week everyone!
Love Stace x
*Image courtesy of Pinterest