Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a crippling condition – and 1.3 million Americans live with this painful autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers live with chronic joint pain, which causes swelling that can eventually lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.

But what if we told you chocolate can help? Chocolate could hold the power to help alleviate RA symptoms. Here’s everything you need to know about the health benefits of chocolate for RA.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s own immune system. Normally, the immune system can protect itself against bacteria and viruses, but when you’re living with RA, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This then creates inflammation around the tissue, which in turn thickens inside the joints and causes extreme pain and swelling. And RA is a chronic condition with no known cure, meaning sufferers often live with these aches and pains for a lifetime.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available to stop inflammation, relieve symptoms and prevent joint and organ damage. Most RA sufferers turn to treatments like over-the-counter pain medication, prescription medications, and injection treatments to find relief.

But medication isn’t the only way you can achieve RA relief. Maintaining a healthy diet also plays an important role in keeping symptoms at bay. And part of that healthy diet can – and perhaps should – include chocolate. Studies have suggested that chocolate is beneficial for RA sufferers.

Not so sure? Here are some reasons that’ll change your mind.

1. Cocoa Has More Antioxidants Than Most Foods

Did you know that cocoa provides an abundant source of phytochemicals? You might not know much about phytochemicals, but this odd ingredient means cocoa is an antioxidant – and antioxidants are known to help with cardiovascular health, brain function, and cancer prevention.

If you have RA, consuming cocoa (yes, even in the form of chocolate) can also benefit your immune system. According to NIH research, cocoa has more antioxidants than most foods – another reason to not hide your chocolate stash!

2. Chocolate Contains Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, can significantly reduce inflammation throughout the body. Cocoa properties are known to decrease COX-2 enzymes that cause inflammation, meaning every bite of dark chocolate helps decrease what’s causing your aches and pains.

3. 70-80 Percent Cocoa Can Offer Relief

Unfortunately, not all chocolate is created equally – and although white chocolate is quite tasty, it’s actually full of sugar. This is also true for sweetened chocolate and some dark chocolates as well – not all chocolate contains anti-inflammatory flavonoid properties.

You’ll want to look for chocolate that packs more health benefits than drawbacks. Flavonoids, which are natural in cocoa, makes chocolate taste bitter. That’s why many chocolate manufacturers remove this compound by adding in sugar. If you’re suffering from RA, your best bet is to purchase dark chocolate that’s at least 70 to 80 percent cacao (and make sure it’s natural unsweetened cocoa).

4. Eating Chocolate Releases Serotonin

When you consume chocolate, it triggers the release of serotonin in the brain – or what many people call “the happiness chemical.” Serotonin literally changes your mindset, releasing happiness and lifting your mood.

Suffering from the symptoms of RA can have a devastating impact on your well-being. However, treating yourself with dark chocolate can help combat both a bad mood and a little of your pain. Enjoying dark chocolate (in moderation, of course) is enough to lift up your spirits, even if just for a moment.

Consider Chocolate If You’re Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living with RA can significantly impact your everyday life, but it is possible to manage your symptoms with a well-balanced diet. Although healthy eating is a smart choice, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little chocolate to your diet in an effort to control inflammation.

In fact, there are many different ways to make chocolate part of your healthy lifestyle with RA. One quick search online will reveal plenty of tips and tricks, including ways to make your own dark chocolate with raw organic cacao butter, hot water, and cocoa powder. So, the next time you’re in search of ways to help soothe some of your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, consider turning to chocolate.