Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Daily Chocolate May Rejuvenate Your Life After Menopause

The benefits are due to a blend of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.

Key points

  • The Women’s Health Initiative examined the long-term effects of chocolate consumption upon mortality.
  • Chocolate consumption of three servings of chocolate each week was associated with a lower risk of dementia.
  • The study found an inverse association between chocolate consumption and all-cause mortality.

Chocolate is an excellent example of how difficult it is to differentiate food from drugs. The cocoa powder used to produce chocolate is rich in flavanols and many potentially psychoactive chemicals. Americans love chocolate; we spend $22 million on it every year. However, the long-term health effects of daily chocolate consumption are unclear.

Chocolate has positives and negatives.

It contains a high content of stearic acid, sugar, and fat, which can cause weight gain. It also contains a blend of powerful antioxidants. Some recent studies have shown that chocolate consumption is associated with better cognitive function. The available literature is contradictory as to whether the positives outweigh the negatives.

A recent study used data from the Women’s Health Initiative to determine the long-term effects of chocolate consumption on mortality, cardiovascular disease, and dementia in a very large population (n = 93,676) of postmenopausal women whose data were collected for 19 years at 40 clinical centers around the U.S. Chocolate consumption ranged from one to six one-ounce servings per week.

Mortality endpoints included all causes, cardiovascular disease (the main cause of death in the U.S.), all cancers (including lung, breast, colorectal, pancreas, and ovarian), and death due to dementia (principally Alzheimer’s disease). The other variables considered were age, race, ethnicity, education level, annual income, socioeconomic status, estrogen or progesterone use, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol intake, diabetes status, high blood cholesterol status, family history of heart attack or stroke, and numerous dietary factors. The study considered lifestyle, diet, disease history, medication use, family history of disease, and physical activity level.

The analysis discovered that compared to women who rarely ate chocolate, women with higher chocolate consumption were younger, white, current smokers, had less physical activity, and consumed more calories; they also consumed more coffee and tea. These high chocolate-consuming white smokers also had a higher BMI but were less likely to have diabetes or high blood cholesterol.

Chocolate consumption of about three servings of chocolate each week was associated with a lower risk of death from dementia other than Alzheimer’s disease. The study discovered a modestly inverse association between chocolate consumption and all-cause mortality. The study reported that moderate chocolate consumption of one to three servings per week was also associated with a lower risk of mortality due to cardiovascular disease. This was like an earlier study that showed that among women with a history of acute myocardial infarction, chocolate consumption was associated with lower cardiac mortality.

The flavonoids in chocolate may underlie the protective effects on heart and brain functions.

Animal and human studies have previously demonstrated the antihypertensive, anti-atherogenic, and anti-inflammatory activities of cocoa powder. The reported benefits in cognitive function due to chocolate might be due to the aggregate effects of theobromine, caffeine, and methylxanthines, as well as the flavonoids. Flavonoids can produce beneficial effects at very low levels, levels that might be achieved by a regular dose of chocolate.

Flavonoids directly induce neurons in the brain to become more plastic—that is, more capable of forming new memories. The flavonoids achieve this by directly interacting with specific proteins and enzymes that are critical for learning and memory. They also induce the birth of new neurons, a process that is critical for recovering from injury, exposure to toxins, and the consequences of advanced age, such as increased levels of brain inflammation.

Finally, some recent studies have shown that flavonoids enhance blood flow to active brain regions. When adult females were given flavonoid-rich chocolate drinks, the blood flow to their brains was significantly increased within just two hours, and their performance on a complex mental task was greatly improved. If you would like to learn more about the effects of nutrients on the brain, read Your Brain on Food, published by Oxford University Press.

Flavanols, such as the proanthocyanins in cocoa, have been shown to inhibit the growth of human lung cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. Components of chocolate are also able to inhibit platelet activation and aggregation, which would protect from strokes. Overweight or obese women who are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, as compared with normal-weight women, might benefit from increased chocolate intake.

Interestingly, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and lung cancer mortality was observed at only moderate levels of chocolate consumption; there was no significant association between high chocolate consumption and cause-specific mortality.

Overall, the results obtained from this very large study suggest that chocolate consumption was, in general, associated with modestly lower mortality risk, as well as a much lower risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia among postmenopausal women.

In another study, researchers found that women in their 50s often develop a sudden strong craving for chocolate. It turns out that most of the women had just entered menopause and were on a standard form of estrogen replacement therapy consisting of 20 days of estrogen and 10 days of progesterone. The chocolate cravings developed during the days on progesterone. Why?

Chocolate contains magnesium salts, the absence of which in elderly females may be responsible for the common postmenopausal condition known as “chocoholism.” About 100 milligrams of magnesium salt is sufficient to take away any trace of chocoholism in these women. Clearly, there are many good reasons for postmenopausal women to eat chocolate, in addition to its indescribably soothing, mellow, and euphoric effect.


Sun Y, et al., (2023) Chocolate Consumption in Relation to All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 123:902-911.e3.

More from Gary Wenk Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today