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Cocoa / Chocolate, OCD, and Pain Management

I know…not the post you’d expect from an author or in my regular obsessive-compulsive disorder posts, but I keep having to repost this information again and again as people ask me about it, so I’m putting it all in one place.

(My background)

Some of you know that I’ve been diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome and will, mostly likely, eventually be diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type 3 (EDS.) (Along with my son in fact.) It’s been a struggle for a long time to keep all my joints, ribs, kneecaps in place where they should be. I’m looking at having my knees, hips, and possibly shoulder reconstruction or replacement surgeries because of this. I thought it’d be soon–the way things were over last summer, hip replacement seemed imminent. (For reference sake, I just turned forty last year–so hip replacement at age forty seemed, well, lame.)

Pain has been a constant in my life for many years, but I’d gotten skilled at ignoring it until I just couldn’t anymore. Unfortunately, I get all my side effects for meds in the “danger! danger! stop immediately!” section of the warnings and I’d systematically tried and bombed out of almost every pain med aside from opiates. (I actually just have bombed out of another one–the last RX pain med in fact.) I drive my kids around a lot over the course of the day, and I don’t drive on the serious pain meds. Physical therapy helps–when my insurance is kind enough to pay for it, but I’m not…fixable per se. Everything we do is primarily holding back the tide. My hips, ribs, knee caps, etc. will continue to go out of place. That will cause joint erosion and muscles tears and pulls. Forever and ever. It blows.

Last summer, my sister was struggling with pain management and, in a discussion with her, I realized that my joint health had really dove with my hormones. (Early menopause is a thing in my genetics and I’m in perimenopause.) Chocolate came up because I’ve known for a while about many of the health benefits of chocolate–including the affect on our hormones. So, I looked into the possibility of using cocoa or chocolate for joint health only to find out that it’s not unheard of.

I figured, what the heck, you know? If chocolate (cocoa powder) doesn’t help, at least I won’t be looking at vision loss or a narcotic addiction due to trying it. I even had a history of it working because my health had really fallen off after the vitamin supplement I’d been using took cocoa powder from its ingredients. Also, I’d been going darker and darker in my chocolate cravings as my pain worsened and we often crave what we need. So, I started adding cocoa powder to my morning hot chocolate and then I added in cocoa powder pills.

It worked. The effects don’t last long–three to six hours usually, and I had to increase the dosage and frequency until it felt like enough, but the crazy, last-ditch effort worked. It helps with pain management and inflammation so that I can get by with far, far less meds…and fewer ribs and joints go out of place. It helps with my mood fluctuation and depression from OCD. It even helped regulate my sleep schedule–which is so odd and completely unexpected. My insomnia is fairly rare these days. I’ll get it now and again from stress, but I’m actually sleeping. It’s helped with cravings. I’m not relying on food to boost my serotonin levels and make me happy. My immune system is better–I don’t get sick as much or as badly when I do. My cycles used to rip me in half, but not as much now. It’s just flat-out helped. Why?

(Here’s the gathered science on chocolate)

(Found online and each statement was confirmed in multiple places–though I reworded of course.)

(Some of this was taken from a guest post I did elsewhere–so it might sound familiar.)

As I mentioned, over the years, my desire for chocolate has taken a dark turn, and by that I mean anything less than 70% cocoa totally grosses me out. I top out at around 85%. I have a 100% bar that I’ve yet to try. I imagine it’s basically pressed cocoa. My cravings have intensified and I didn’t realize why until I stopped to analyze it.

Brain chemicals. Chocolate increases the production of dopamine (a chemical that gives us a rush and a happy floaty feeling–love and infatuation release dopamine) but it also releases other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which also lifts our moods. The stereotype of women eating chocolate due to their cycles can be plausibly related to their bodies attempting to regulate hormones. Chocolate functions as a sort of pseudo-estrogen. Chocolate also releases endorphins that decrease both pain and stress. Additionally, studies have linked chocolate to fighting inflammation.

Chocolate also contains a wallop of antioxidants which may help with both blood pressure and cardiovascular health. It also contains fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and more. The theobromine in chocolate also can work as a natural cough suppressant. (This is a very short-time solution and works best if applied directly to the throat–through eating chocolate or drinking hot chocolate.)

Before you toss back a couple of those cheap chocolates that are left over from some long ago holiday, keep in mind that the darker the chocolate the better in terms of your health. The waxy, high-fat, high-sugar chocolates might play havoc with your health, rather than help it. This is your excuse to buy the good stuff and maybe add a teaspoon of cocoa powder to your smoothie or other drink.

If you’d like more information on chocolate’s benefits, consult the almighty Google with searches on chocolate, cocoa, and cacao.

But, wait, I mentioned I take cocoa pills…

(Here’s how you encapsulate cocoa.)

As I said, I typically add a tsp or two of cocoa powder (in addition to the mix) to my hot chocolate every morning, but that’s not always convenient and I don’t necessarily need the sugar or fat included. You can buy encapsulated cocoa or cacao but I generally take 6-8 pills every day, twice a day. (Three times a day on non-hot chocolate days or if I’m still in a lot of pain.) Not only does that get pricey, I had a reaction to the store-bought cacao pills because they used vegetarian capsules–apparently I’m allergic. So, now, I make mine. It’s a process. Would you like to see pictures? Of course you would.

First picture is of my supplies: multiple containers, gloves, capsules (gelatin or cellulose), cocoa (NOT hot chocolate mix) powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark or similar products), and rice flour.

I get size 0 capsules on Amazon. They run about $9 for 1000 capsules currently. You can get the cocoa in a grocery store or in larger quantities on Amazon also. In size 0 capsules, 8 capsules = approx. 1-2 tsp, I believe–depending how tight you pack them.

 

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I’ve developed a system for set-up to minimize mess and so I can sit and do it while watching TV. I take two small bowls/containers and fill one of the small containers with cocoa and the other with empty capsules. I put both inside a much larger container like a wide tupperware or a baking sheet or a large pan/glassware. After I pull on gloves, I sit with the whole thing on my lap or at the table and get to work.

First, I pull the capsule apart and push the bigger section into the cocoa while scooping up some in the other section before joining them. There are tools that can do this and I might get one because this takes a while. Put the two sections together and push until you feel it “lock.” Then, I just drop the finished pill into the larger container that is holding my two smaller containers of empty capsules and cocoa. I grab another pill and repeat the process until my hands hurt or I’ve gone through my supply of empty capsules.
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When they’re all done, you’ll notice they are absolutely coated in cocoa. Cocoa is a very stubbornly sticky material, not only is this problematic because it makes taking them messy, but it makes them more difficult to swallow. Cocoa like this can bother your throat and tongue–the acidity is most noticeable in straight cocoa. This is where the abrasive and very hypoallergenic rice flour comes in. I add rice flour to the pills and shake it up, sifting it through the pills until all the cocoa is off the sides. Then, I remove the pills and dump the rice flour-cocoa mixture. (Note: this is the only time the rice flour comes into play–as an abrasive for removing cocoa–it’s not an ingredient.)

Pre-rice flour:

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Post-rice flour:

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You can rub them across a paper towel or something to get the residual powder off if you want.

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Finally, I stick them in a pill bottle and set it near my laptop or toss it in my purse.

But, oh noes, you’ve got cocoa powder on your clothes, carpet, etc. *snorts* Amateur. I’m kidding. I do that every time. DO NOT scrub it off with water. Go get either duct tape or packing tape and just apply that tape vigorously to the loose powder. Voilà! You’re welcome.

(Conclusion)

So, is chocolate going to solve all your physical and mental health problems?

How the heck should I know? I’m a romance author, not a doctor. (mentally insert Star Trek Bones Meme here) I can tell you that it’s helped with everyone I’ve suggested it to…and that is not a small amount of people. (Thus why I’m finally posting it here.) I can also tell you that going to your doctor and telling him that you will not need a refill on your Percocet rx because you’re taking chocolate for pain makes for the most bizarre doctor’s appointment ever–and I’ve done that twice now.

Full disclosure: I’m still supplementing with various OTC pain meds and I get regular massages because my joints are all “weeeee! let’s go out of place!” but I’m one million times better (approximately) than I was prior to starting cocoa pills. It helps. It doesn’t hurt. And that ain’t bad.

Also of note: caffeine doesn’t bother me and can even calm me down. Chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine so if you’re super-sensitive to caffeine–watch for that.

If you’d like to try cocoa but you’re not sure about investing in making your own pills:

  • Add a little cocoa powder to smoothies, hot beverages, yogurt, hot cereal, etc. I use dutch-processed cocoa because it’s less acidic and goes down easier, in my opinion.
  • You can eat dark chocolate–go as dark as you can. Milk chocolate basically cancels out most health benefits of chocolate with other ingredients. I’d guess you need 60% or above. In my unprofessional opinion. I think you’d notice an effect at around 1/4 of a bar…or so.
  • You can buy a bottle of cacao pills on various sites. (Cacao is the pre-roasted version of cocoa. Roasting does, supposedly, reduce some of the positive effects, but it also makes it less acidic–which might be nice for those with stomach issues.) Cacao pill bottles recommend like one to two pills as a dosage. While I’m not going to actually recommend a different dosage–that does make me laugh.
  • You can also buy cacao nibs–which are weirdly nutty bits of pre-processed cocoa. Nibs can be added to granola or put on top of yogurt or whatever. I’ve tried these–they’re okay–your mileage may vary.

Whatever type you try, with a decent dosage, you’ll probably notice effects within a short amount of time depending on how you’ve ingested it. It’s more noticeable on an empty stomach. I’ve never had any significant negative effects, but I’m sure they’re possible–people can be allergic to chocolate. Effects are short-term in my experience–three to six hours at most. Try it. Don’t try it. That’s all on you, dude. I’m just laying it all out there.

So, are we good? You’ve now got all my information in one place and I can now just link this. Good. As you were.

**I always put a proviso down here on my OCD posts and this feels advisable. I’m not your doctor, your therapist, or your mother (most likely) so anything I say should be taken with a grain of cocoa powder (see what I did there?) You should always seek medical advice before beginning, ending, or considering any type of intervention for your physical and mental health. Chocolate is not a life-saving device…probably. Nor should anything I say be taken as advice–especially not as even anecdotal advice that replaces your self-care or using common sense. If your appendix is rupturing, chocolate will not help. This is simply my experience as a human being who enjoys chocolate, being semi-sane, and not being in pain…and also sleeping. Sleeping is fun.**

One Response so far.

  1. willaful says:

    My son approves this post.

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