Friday, April 02, 2010

New study: chocolate reduces risk of stroke and heart attack by 39%

This post now on Google News

I've seen various studies over the years about the benefits of dark chocolate, but none as convincing as this one.

In an article published yesterday in the European Heart Journal, German scientists report a study that tracked nearly 20,000 people over a period of 8 years. The researchers found that people who ate approximately one square of a dark chocolate bar every day reduced their risk of both stroke and heart attack by 39%! One square is defined as 6 grams or a quarter of an ounce. This is the first study to follow people for such a long period.

Flavonols provide the benefit
The researchers believe that flavonols in the chocolate are responsible for the benefits. Flavonols are also in red wine, some teas, and some vegetables. Ingestion of flavonols affects the muscles in blood vessels, helping them dilate, which causes a drop in blood pressure.

Because flavonoids (a chemical group that includes flavonols) can have a bitter taste, they are often removed from chocolate, even dark chocolate. Milk, including the milk in milk chocolate, can inhibit the uptake of flavonoids and flavonols.  So if you want to try taking a square of chocolate a day, look for dark chocolate that doesn't have milk in it, and don't drink a glass of milk at the same time. Some brands of dark chocolate say on the wrapper that the flavonols and flavonoids have not been removed. To read more about flavonoids and flavonol, and foods that have them, see this article.

Eating too much chocolate can be a health risk
The study's lead author is Dr. Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Bermany.  He and the other researchers warned that eating too much chocolate could cause weight gain, which has the opposite health effect. Weight gain is a major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks.

Others around the world had similar comments about the new study. "This is not a prescription to eat more chocolate," said Dr. Robert Eckel, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado and a past president of the American Heart Association. He was not linked to the study. "If we all had (a small amount) of chocolate every day for the rest of our lives, we would all gain a few pounds."

Authors say recommendations may be premature
The authors also stopped short of recommending that everyone eat chocolate every day. "It's a bit early to come up with recommendations that people should eat more chocolate, but if people replace sugar or high-fat snacks with a little piece of dark chocolate, that might help," said Dr. Buijsse. The authors, and others, feel that more research is needed to determine the exact impact of chocolate on the body.

The study was funded by the German government and the European Union.

"Easter eggs crack heart risks." German Herald. April 1, 2010.

Maria Cheng, AP Medical Writer. "Study: Chocolate could reduce heart risk." Charlotte Observer. April 1, 2010.

A similar story by Maria Cheng is available online: "Study: Chocolate could reduce heart risk." Lubbock Online. March 31, 2010.

Flavonoid. Wikipedia. April 1, 2010.

Key words: dark chocolate flavonols flavonoids 39% fewer strokes 39% fewer heart attacks Brian Buijsse benefits of chocolate

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