Do You Need a Chocolate Detox?

by | Jun 7, 2024

I have been fielding a lot of questions about toxic metals and chocolate recently.  Food safety can be a topic that can be depressing. Rice has arsenic, most fish contain mercury (some more than others), shrimp have arsenic, leafy greens take up cadmium from the soil, about 30% of the tap water in the US contains lead and many foods are contaminated with pesticides, molds and other heavy metals. As many of you have heard, some brands of chocolate tested by Consumer Reports contained alarming levels of lead and cadmium.  

Consumer reports tested 28 dark chocolate bars for lead and cadmium. To determine the risk posed by the chocolates in CR’s test, we used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead (0.5 micrograms) and cadmium (4.1mcg)

You can ask your chocolate company to provide third-party testing to see what the lead and cadmium levels are.  Because there are no federal limits on the amount of lead and cadmium foods may contain, scientists at Consumer Reports used California’s maximum allowable dose level.  They did this because they felt as though it was the most scientifically valid. Rather than list all the brands including the levels of lead and mercury I will refer the reader to Consumer Reports for this information. It is available online for free.

The chocolate tree (Theobroma Cacao – see image below) produces fruits which are called pods.  The seeds are then dried and separated from the shell.  The Cacao trees take up cadmium from the soil.  This is not from pesticides.  Lead, however, seems to get into raw chocolate powder after the beans are harvested.  Lead is typically found on the outer shell of the bean.  The longer the bean sits in the sun the more lead migrates from the outer shell into the internal part.  It is easier to fix the lead problem because manufacturing practices can be altered but much harder for cadmium because the plant takes it up out of the soil.

The recommendations are to eat no more than one-ounce of chocolate per day.  Since milk chocolate has less cocoa powder it is safer. One ounce is a small amount for most chocolate lovers.  Many of my patients eat dark chocolate as their only dessert because of its effect on blood pressure, glucose metabolism, and because of the polyphenol (antioxidant) content.  I have patients who eat chocolate every day.

If you are a chocolate lover I recommend you get your toxic metals checked.  I have been measuring toxic metals for more than 20 years. It’s easy to do.  This is done by using intravenous EDTA and DMPS, both strong toxic metal chelators.  I do not recommend blood or hair testing for metals.  It takes about an hour to get the IV and then you collect urine for 6-hours and send it to the lab.  This is the gold standard test. The toxic metals test checks all toxic metals as well she will get to see your aluminum, arsenic, uranium etc. 

Cadmium from Cocao can damage the kidneys, bones and the lungs too, if inhaled.  Cadmium can damage DNA, chromosomes, and is a group B1 carcinogen according to the EPA.  The World Health Organization classifies cadmium as a known human carcinogen. Cadmium is stored mainly in the kidney and liver and may stay there for many years after exposure. 

In adults lead may cause hypertension, difficulty thinking, aggressive behavior and coordination problems. Adults absorb only 20% of lead from food but 50% if on an empty stomach.  Blood levels of lead may go up as lead is lost from bone (where it is stored) with age (osteopenia/porosis), during pregnancy, and lactation.  Calcium deficiency accelerates at this.

Children absorb more lead than adults.  Children absorb 100% of lead on an empty stomach and 50% if included with food.  Lead can affect neurodevelopment and children, esp. IQ. Lead poisoning may cause ADHD, behavioral problems, lower academic achievement, and reproductive problems later in life.

Lead inhibits the body’s ability to make hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is necessary for oxygen delivery to cells.  Population studies have shown a strong connection between lead exposure and cardiovascular disease including heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.  In all studies lead was found to cause negative effects even at the lowest doses, far below what is considered toxic.

I recommend being on the safe side by checking your toxic metal levels.  If they are not high, you have nothing to worry about. If they are then there is work to be done!

Cocoa pod. Maybe oxic

In 2023, it’s estimated the world wide consumption of chocolate will be up to 16 billion pounds, but we cannot have chocolate without cocoa! Cocoa of course is the primary ingredient in chocolate making – no cocoa, no chocolate. Chocolate is such a staple food, but many people do not know where exactly it comes from beyond “cocoa.”

Cocoa grows on Theobroma trees, where you will find cocoa “pods” growing on the tree trunks themselves, unlike other fruits which grow on tree branches. Within these cocoa pods, they are full of cocoa beans and a a fleshy pulp, referred to as Baba. The beans are extracted from these pods for chocolate making, and in most cases the husks and interior pulp are disposed of.

Naturopathic Doctor Steve Parcell

By: Dr. Steve Parcell  |  NatureMed Integrative Medicine

Stephen W. Parcell, ND, earned his doctorate in naturopathic medicine in 2002 from Bastyr University in Seattle. This was a four-year full-time program with clinic rotations and internships. Prior to this he completed pre-med coursework at the University of Vermont. Dr. Parcell holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business from New England College, which he received in 1986. In his previous career he worked in bond trading and mutual fund sales.

Dr. Parcell has done additional training at the American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM), the National Lipid Association (NLA), the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) and the American Academy for Anti-aging Medicine (A4M). He is the past Vice President of the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Doctors (COAND). He is board certified in anti-aging medicine through A4M. After completing a two-year internship at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Dr. Parcell completed a two-year internship in integrative medicine with Terry Grossman, MD.

NatureMed is an integrative, naturopathic medical clinic in Boulder, Colorado and the only one of its kind in the area. The clinic has four naturopathic doctors on staff. The naturopathic doctors are all graduates of CNME accredited post-doctorate naturopathic colleges. Dr. Kelly and Steve Parcell completed internships with medical doctors after graduating from Bastyr University where they met. Both Kelly and Steve Parcell have been practicing for over 20 years.


View clinic >