Tired of painkillers that wreak havoc on your stomach, or worse, can be addictive? Try one your whole body will love: chocolate.

Chocolate – the word alone is enough to make our eyes light up and our brain cells dance. And not just because it tastes delicious.

Cocoa, the active ingredient in chocolate, provides a host of benefits, from mood lifting to antioxidant power. But for pain sufferers, the best news is proof of chocolate for pain relief.

chocolate for pain reliefFood as Medicine

People often use food as medicine, eating superfoods like tomatoes for heart health, fish for a healthier brain or spinach to fight cancer. And most pain sufferers know that cutting dairy, wheat, sugar or alcohol can decrease allergies, acid reflux and inflammation, and improve overall well-being.

In fact, there are a host of foods that doctors recommend as natural painkillers, like coffee, cherries and olive oil, primarily because of their anti-inflammatory properties.

Like those, chocolate is a known anti-inflammatory. But this study showed that, in addition to reducing swelling, chocolate also improves blood flow, which can decrease pain, especially in people with circulatory conditions (in this case Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD).

To learn more about which foods may benefit you, check out our article on foods for pain relief.

A Love Letter to Your Body

As if improved circulation and reduced inflammation weren’t enough, chocolate also has been proven to reduce heart disease, help you sleep and improve your mood. How does it do all this wonderful stuff?

The main active ingredient, of course, is cacao, which creates something like a party in your brain. It makes you feel better by:

– Increasing the body’s natural opiates (endorphins)
– Hitting the brain’s cannabis receptors
– Increasing serotonin levels
– Releasing the body’s natural amphetamine, phenylethylamine, better known as the “love drug”

It’s also the only known food source of anandamide (aka the “bliss molecule”) and it contains tryptophan, the same chemical found in turkey, which makes you sleepy.

And since exercise can be difficult when you’re in pain, you want to boost its effects when you can do it. Chocolate can help. Participants in this study who ate a small amount of dark chocolate two-to-three times a week and exercised 3.5 times a week had a lower BMI than the participants who didn’t.

And of course, unlike naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin, chocolate doesn’t cause the “gastric erosions” that can lead to ulcers and even hemorrhage.

chocolate for pain reliefThe Darker the Better

Researchers have found that not just any chocolate will do. It has to be dark chocolate – and the higher the cocoa content, the better.

What does dark chocolate have over milk or white? Well, here’s a list:

– Healthy monounsaturated fatty acids
– Fewer carbs
– Less sugar
– More fiber
– Higher levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium
– More flavonoids

For the best results, choose a brand with at least 65 percent cocoa. Limit yourself to three ounces a day, and look for chocolate with the lowest fat content you can find.

And while there are no prescriptions for chocolate (yet), it’s sure backed by a lot of studies that show it’s not only a natural mood booster, but a natural painkiller, too.

So, thanks, researchers! We finally get to hear those three little words we’ve longed for: Eat more chocolate.