Across the internet you’ll find articles professing that eating chocolate relieves pain. Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do each morning was have a couple squares of chocolate to feel great!
Well I’ve got good news for you. Eating chocolate will reduce your pain for a couple different reasons. The first is something called ingestion analgesia. The word ‘analgesia’ means the inability to feel pain. Ingestion analgesia occurs when your ability to feel pain is reduced when you eat. But you don’t have to eat chocolate to experience ingestion analgesia. A study done with rats in 2009 showed that drinking water was just as effective as eating chocolate for reducing pain.
By the way, I highly recommend drinking lots of water and staying hydrated to help manage your pain. Not only does the act of drinking water potentially produce ingestion analgesic effects, staying hydrated is good for a zillion different reasons that I’ll discuss with you in another post.
But let’s get back to chocolate. I find eating chocolate pleasurable. A lot of people do. And an interesting thing about pleasure is that it can cause you to feel less pain. This is called pleasure analgesia. And that’s the second way chocolate relieves pain; it’s pleasurable to consume.
Pain and pleasure share a lot of the same wiring in the body and brain. This is why some people can find pleasure with painful stimulation, like eating hot peppers. An experience of pleasure can temporarily override feelings of pain. But again, this effect isn’t exclusively related to chocolate, listening to great music, or feelings of gratitude or any other pleasurable experience can also help in relieving pain.
So is there anything special about chocolate? Well, chocolate may have some health benefits. A nine year study of 31,000 Swedish women showed that eating chocolate reduced their risk of heart failure significantly. They were eating Swiss milk chocolate by the way.
Isn’t dark chocolate the healthy chocolate?
Dark chocolate has been given so much press lately that it’s almost considered a health food, but there is some truth to its benefits. It is said to be rich in flavonoids which are complex molecules found in plants that can help reduce inflammation. Reducing inflammation is important for managing pain (more about that in another post too). So yes, chocolate might have some benefits, but it is also full of calories and sugar.
Too much chocolate leads to weight gain and inflammation both of which can make your pain worse. A little chocolate can have positive effects. The take home message here is that moderation is the key.
If you really want to get the most pain relief out of each square of chocolate, try this Mindful Eating Exercise with chocolate.
Mindful Eating Exercise with Chocolate
- Break off one small square of excellent dark chocolate. (the really good stuff)
- Find a quiet place to sit.
- Place the chocolate piece on your lounge and close your eyes.
- Keep your mouth slightly open.
- Gently massage the chocolate on the roof of your mouth.
- Bring all of your attention to the taste of the chocolate
- Breathe normally through your nose and let the chocolate melt on your tongue.
Notice the texture and temperature of the chocolate as it changes over time. The temperature of your tongue will slowly melt the chocolate piece, enhancing the smell and flavor subtly. Notice the myriad elements of the flavor of chocolate: roasted, chalky, creamy, sweet, and so on. Keep your mind attuned to the experience of mindfully noticing the experience of the chocolate in your mouth.
Your mind will tend to wander off and you will probably crave to bite the chocolate. Continue breathing slowly and let the chocolate continue to melt. Mindfully attune to the entire experience of the chocolate melting and dissolving on your tongue. Savor the experience and stay present the whole time.
The cool thing about your brain is that you can only fully focus on one thing at a time. If you bring your full attention to the chocolate you cannot also attune to your pain. Chocolate relieves pain wonderfully when used as part of a mindfulness practice.
This is a delightful little exercise that can be used once a day to reduce your stress and give you a break from your pain. But only use one square of chocolate! Deal?
If you want to know more about the health benefits of chocolate start with this article by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT