bowl of oatmeal, cocoa in oatmeal

Scientists have found that compounds in cocoa can affect the balance of bacteria in the intestines (Magrone, Russo & Jirillo, Frontiers in Immunology, June 9, 2017). Those changes in turn seem to reduce inflammation. Could eating cocoa in oatmeal for breakfast help to control arthritis pain? One reader says yes.

Cocoa in Oatmeal for Arthritis:

Q. After reading that dark chocolate has health benefits, I learned to enjoy it. Eating it didn’t reduce my arthritis aches, though.

Then I read in the newspaper that researchers discovered that gut microbes convert some chocolate ingredients into anti-inflammatory compounds.

Apparently, two tablespoons of cocoa powder a day is sufficient. This must be plain 100 percent cocoa powder, such as is used in baking, NOT Dutch-processed cocoa.

Chemist Finley, the researcher, said he avoids the sugar and fat that would come from eating so much chocolate candy by putting cocoa in oatmeal every morning. Since following his example, I’ve rarely had arthritis pain.

A. Your letter sent us on a search for Dr. Finley’s research. We found a press release regarding Bifidobacterium in the digestive tract producing anti-inflammatory compounds by fermenting cocoa powder. The study should be published in 2018.

Cocoa and Immune Responses in the Intestine:

Other research has demonstrated that cocoa compounds can reduce immunoglobulin secretion in the intestine (Camps-Bossacoma et al, Frontiers in Nutrition, June 27, 2017).  This research demonstrated a benefit in experimental arthritis in rats, but we don’t have clinical trials in humans.

We are delighted to learn how well you are doing by adding two tablespoons of cocoa to your morning oatmeal. We have documented a number of other non-drug approaches to alleviating arthritis pain in our new 104-page book, The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.

Is There a Downside?

People benefit from reducing the inflammation around their joints, but there may be some disadvantages to reducing immune reactions in the intestine. A study in young pigs found that cocoa flavanols together with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnossus lowered their immune response so much that they were slower to clear intestinal parasites (Jang et al, Nutrients, Oct. 2017). Thus, a reaction that is very beneficial in one context could be detrimental in another.

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  1. Rocky
    Evanston, IL

    After reading the Q &A about the cocoa powder added to oatmeal, I bought some organic, 100% powder. It was difficult to eat 2 tbs. on one serving of oatmeal, so I switched to making a simple smoothie using some hot water, non-dairy milk and a little sweetener like maple syrup, just enough to take the edge off the bitterness. This has has been my routine for 10 days, but the effect on the knuckle joints of my dominant hand, which have been miserably swollen for several years, has been dramatic. The swelling, discoloration, aching, loss of range–all the symptoms of inflammation are so diminished. I am very grateful for your simple, flexible suggestion.

  2. mary

    I have been adding a heaping regular teaspoon of organic dark chocolate powder to my home-made ”bullet proof” coffee . [organic coffee, mct oil, dark unprocessed chocolate—whirred up in a small Magic Bullet] Tastes rather like a fancy cappuccino.

    Now i see that might not be enough to actually do any good. And yet there is constipation to consider, this may actually be a side effect I was not attributing to the chocolate.

    So wonderful to read others experiences—additionally thought provoking.

    And then– even more to consider is the downside with intestinal parasites. Oh yikes.

    So would having it occasionally help, be effective, without killing the good bacteria? Would taking probiotics help that downside?

  3. Linda
    Kansas City

    Some cocoa powder contains lead and/or cadmium in excess.

  4. Judith
    Louisville, KY

    I’ve been putting Cacao nibs in my oatmeal. Does that have the same effect as cocoa?

  5. Abigail
    NW USA

    Is Dutch-processed cocoa the same as cocoa processed with alkali?

    • cynthia

      Yes, it is exactly the same-two names for the same item.

  6. Jane

    How come they didn’t suggest another way to ingest the Cocoa? I don’t want to cook Oatmeal every morning.

    I will give credit to the People’s Pharmacy for running articles that address REAL issues we out here are having. Because of this I always peruse your emails to me very carefully because they always address an issue I have. Thanks for that!

    • mary

      Hello Jane—see my ”bullet proof coffee” comment. No oatmeal, yet now concerned about the effect on the pigs. I have purchased organic dark chocolate by NOW from the health grocery store and more–in bulk– from Amazon. [Anthony’s]
      Yet now I am conflicted. Best to you

    • cynthia

      You can put cocoa in your coffee, you can make a tea-like drink out of it (although you drink the “dregs”, so you have to keep stirring as you drink in order to get it all) by putting a tablespoon in warm or hot water, you can add a tablespoon or two to a pot of chili (this gives a nice depth of flavor to the chili).. Just use your imagination!

    • Ellen

      I add cocoa to my morning smoothies.

      After listening to the podcasts about eating fats instead of carbohydrates, this advice about oatmeal is contradictory to that.

  7. Dan

    The cocoa may help but the oatmeal will not. Oats, being a grain, convert into glucose during the digestive process. Glucose is inflammatory so if you want to reduce the arthritic pain, reduce the inflammation causing oats. Reduce sugar, grains, starches, any food that converts to glucose and causes inflammation. I no longer have any arthritis pain since I eliminated these foods from my diet.

  8. Nina

    Do we add the cocoa after the oatmeal is cooked?

    • cynthia

      It would be best to add it after the oatmeal is cooked.

  9. Liz
    NSW Australia

    Interesting,because I was having a small amount of organic cocoa powder and it made me feel hyper AND
    constipated !My metabolism sped up and I felt addicted to it so had to stop.It has mucked up my gut and hasn’t been the same since.Its weird.I don’t know where it originated but won’t be getting it again !

    • cynthia

      You have to be careful of the source of the cocoa. Some cocoa powders have an unsafe level of certain heavy metals. provides independent analysis of various cocoas, as does is a subscription only service, about $40/year, I think, but well worth it for its analysis of many different vitamin/herbal. products. Before I buy any cocoa, I always check this site.

      It should be noted that cocoas seem to preferentially take up certain heavy metals, so you have to be careful–but it should also be noted that you will never find any product that is absolutely free of them–whether it be cocoa or any other food/herb–because they are and always have been present in the environment. The trick is to take in as low a level as possible, so that the goodness in the cocoa is not outweighed by the harmful effects of cadmium, mercury, and lead found in these products.

      On the other hand, is it possible that you are simply sensitive to cocoa for some reason? Have any other cocoa products bothered you? However wonderful a plant may be, it will not agree with or be suitable for everyone.

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