Systematic Review

Chocolate may benefit pregnant women, but further research needed

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Evidence not yet conclusive, but University of Perugia scientists speculate chocolate may provide health boost for pregnant women
Evidence not yet conclusive, but University of Perugia scientists speculate chocolate may provide health boost for pregnant women

Related tags Antioxidant Snack

Moderate chocolate consumption may help expectant mothers and their fetuses by reducing stress and providing antioxidants that guard against reproductive diseases and pregnancy complications, say Italian researchers.

A systematic review from the University of Perugia published in the Journal ofAgricultural and Food Chemistry​ has highlighted beneficial effects from chocolate supplementation. However, it warns further research is required, particularly since existing studies have yielded conflicting results.

No negative effects and possible benefits

“Currently it is possible to conclude that consuming chocolate in moderation is good for human health,” ​wrote authors Eleonora Brillo and Gian Carlo Di Renzo from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Centre for Perinatal and Reproductive Medicine at the University’s Hospital.

“Chocolate can also be used in the diet of pregnant women because no negative effect was found for either maternal or foetal health. Conversely, favorable effects were observed for mother, fetus, and future child,” ​they said.

Antioxidants in chocolate

Pregnancy complications such as miscarriages and pre-eclampsia as well as reproductive diseases like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome can be prompted by oxidative stress – an imbalance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants – during pregnancy.

The researchers said scientific research had yet to prove a conclusive link between antioxidant supplementation and preventing reproductive difficulties, but said clinical trials were exploring the link and particularly with antioxidant rich foods like cocoa and chocolate.

The researchers said expectant mothers might benefit from additional caloric intake from the 10th​ to 13th​ week of gestation and might prefer foods high in antioxidants due to oxidative stress during this period of pregnancy.

 “Available scientific evidence suggests that chocolate with a high cocoa content, consumed daily in modest quantities (30 g/day for 24 weeks), may fit properly into this nutritional strategy without entailing negative consequences in terms of weight during various trimesters,”​ said Brillo and Di Renzo, referring to a 2012 paper by the pair and others.

Blood pressure reduction?

The authors’ 2012 study also found chocolate supplementation could reduce blood pressure during gestation, however a second study by Mogollon et al​. (20 g/day for 12 weeks) found no association.

“We believe that the diverging results on blood pressure are due, in part, to the intervention of control: in the first study,women of the control group did not consume chocolate by protocol, whereas in the second study,women in the control group consumed chocolate as in the experimental group but it had a lesser amount of flavanols (400 mg of total flavanols vs <60 mg). It could be that the absence of differences is due to similar effects of the two kinds of chocolate, which had the same nutrients and bioactive components, except for flavanols,”​ said Brillo and Di Renzo.

They added that the first study was over a 27-week period whereas the second was for 12-weeks.

“We hope other studies will be carried out on this topic in order to understand the real effect of chocolate consumption on maternal blood pressure in pregnancy,” ​they said.

“…The bioactive constituents of cocoa may contribute to reducing reproductive difficulties through actions directly exerted on the vascular endothelium and circulation,”​ they speculated.

Psychological health

The systemic review said chocolate as part of a balencd diet can “instill psychological well-being to both the pregnant woman (typically during the time of high emotional lability) and the future child”.

In fact, chocolate consumption in pregnancy seems to reduce the negative effect of prenatal maternal stress on infant temperament,” ​it said.

Di Renzo and Brillo called on chocolate makers to label bioactive compounds and their levels in products so pregnant women can make informed choices.

J. Agric. Food Chem.​ 2015, 63, 9927−9935
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b01045
‘Chocolate and Other Cocoa Products: Effects on Human Reproduction and Pregnancy’
Authors: Eleonora Brillo and Gian Carlo Di Renzo

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