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Chocolate and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

It should come as no surprise to any regular reader of this column, or to anyone who keeps up with the news about chocolate, that yet another study is showing dark chocolate as having the potential to alleviate the symptoms of yet another disorder.

According to articles posted at the Medical News Today, BBC News, and other web sites, in the autumn of 2007, a professor at Hull York Medical School decided to see if patients suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) might experience any relief from their symptoms if they ingested dark chocolate on a regular basis. Professor Steve Atkin said that he got the idea from a CFS patient who mentioned that she'd switched from milk to dark chocolate and had begun to feel better.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a disorder whose sufferers struggle with (among other symptoms) a seemingly causeless, persistent exhaustion. As well as being debilitating and painful, CFS is also often frustratingly difficult to diagnose and treat.

Professor Atkin and his team of researchers showed an almost playful creativity in their study of ten patients. Every day for two months, half the CFS sufferers were given 45 grams of a special dark chocolate -- not just some bar off the drugstore shelf, but a formulation whose cacao count was an unusually strong 85%. The other patients were given the same amount of a milk chocolate that was specially dyed in order to make it look just like the very dark chocolate.

The researchers then took all the patients off chocolate for one month. Then the patients were reversed, with everyone having a daily dose of whatever kind of chocolate they hadn't been eating previously.

None of the patients gained weight, and all of them reported significant relief from their CFS symptoms while they were consuming the dark chocolate. Two patients whose symptoms had been severe enough to force them to leave their jobs were able to return to work.

What's perhaps most exciting about this study is the fact that this is so obviously not a case of anyone saying, "Here, honey, eat some yummy chocolate and you might feel better!" 85% cacao solids is a very strong chocolate. In the interest of science, I just had a small square of 88% I happened to have around; and as someone who's been cultivating a taste for dark chocolate for years, I can say that it's pretty much right at the edge of my comfort level. If someone had given it to me in a plain wrapper and explained that it was medicine, I would have believed them.

So we're not talking about eating lots of Halloween treats here. This is serious cacao. The head researcher of the Hull York study confirmed that eating regular small amounts of very dark chocolate was "a no-harm, no-risk situation." In other words, if it helps, it helps; if it doesn't help, at least it doesn't hurt.

Atkin's pilot study is too small to be anything but an exciting preliminary to the further research necessary to confirm its findings. Here's hoping such research gets proper funding and attention.

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