Q: I recently had quintuple bypass surgery. Afterward, I suffered from terrible bouts of constipation.

As part of my search for healthy recipes, I found one for hot cocoa using dark cocoa powder. During recent cold afternoons, I substituted that for my afternoon cup of herbal tea. It is a large tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa with a little honey, mixed with boiling water and topped off with a little no-fat milk.

I noticed that since I started drinking this, my bouts with constipation have eased quite a bit. I’ve seen many articles about the health benefits of cocoa but can’t find anything that mentions constipation. Is the cocoa actually helping my digestive system?

A: Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in many plant compounds (flavonols, polyphenols, quercetin, epicatechin and theobromine). A surprising amount of research suggests that both cocoa and dark chocolate can make blood vessels more flexible, enhance circulation and improve cardiovascular health (Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Vol. 61, Issue 3, 2021).

There are also studies showing that ingredients in cocoa powder can improve memory and cognitive performance (Scientific Reports, Nov. 24, 2020). To our surprise, a study reported that the fiber in cocoa “promotes healthier bowel habits” (Nutrition & Metabolism, April 18, 2012).

Cocoa (and dark chocolate) are good sources of magnesium, which is also useful to ward off constipation. You will find additional remedies in our eGuide to Overcoming Digestive Disorders. This online resource is available in the Health eGuides section at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.


Q: As a patient in a major university medical center’s respiratory clinic, I was told to take vitamin D at a daily dosage no less than 1,000 IU per day. I don’t have objective data, but I can say that after starting this, I am coping better with the effects of being a COVID-19 “long hauler.”

In addition to vitamin D, the regimen includes vitamin C and zinc picolinate. I’d hate to imagine what my symptoms would be like without these nutrients!

A: There is growing recognition that many people who recover from COVID-19 continue to suffer long-term symptoms. These include fatigue, breathing problems, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, joint pain, brain fog and loss of taste and smell.

Vitamins C and D plus zinc all are considered important nutrients for immune system function. You can learn more about post-COVID-19 syndrome by listening to our free podcast on this topic. It is Show 1230: What Happens When COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away. You will find it on the podcast page of www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q: I just want to let you know about my success with red yeast rice to lower cholesterol. I’ve always had excellent HDL (60-70) and triglycerides (50-75), but my LDL (129) and my total cholesterol (222) were too high. Those had been rising slowly over the past several years, regardless of my diet and exercise.

My physician was reluctant to put me on a statin because he did not want to lower my good cholesterol. He told me to try red yeast rice, and I have been on it for nine months. My total cholesterol is down to 165, and my LDL is now 83. I have had no side effects.

A: A recent placebo-controlled trial confirmed your observations (Nutrients, Oct. 14, 2020). Red yeast rice plus phytosterols lowered LDL-C and total cholesterol significantly more than placebo.