Men Who Eat A Chocolate Bar Every Week May Be Significantly Lowering Their Risk Of Stroke Later In Life
August 30, 2012

Men Who Eat A Chocolate Bar Every Week May Be Significantly Lowering Their Risk Of Stroke Later In Life

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Chocolate just keeps getting healthier. It has been recently revealed that eating chocolate may help lower blood pressure in some people. And in another study, revealed today, chocolate has the potential to boost brain function. Now, researchers from Stockholm´s Karolinska Institute have found a link between chocolate and stroke.

The Swedish researchers found that men who consume a standard chocolate bar every week lower their risk of having a stroke later in life by 17 percent. And the researchers believe that eating more chocolate could reduce the risk even further.

The Swedish study, led by Susanna Larsson, PhD, followed 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 for about ten years. Over the study period, the team found that, compared to men who ate little or no chocolate, those who consumed about 2.2 ounces per week, dropped their stroke risk significantly.

To strengthen their findings, Larsson and colleagues pooled data with four previous studies, including a nearly identical 2011 study conducted in women. Re-analyzing the combined data showed similar results: Men and women who ate the most chocolate had a 19% lower risk of stroke, compared to those who ate the least.

“This was a meaningful reduction in stroke risk, and the results seem to be valid, given the high number of patients,” Dr. Jonathan Friedman, a neurosurgeon at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, told Amanda Gardner of CNN.

The study, funded by a Swedish research council and published in Wednesday´s edition of the journal Neurology, adds to the growing evidence that consuming chocolate can have some heart-healthy effects.

The benefits of eating chocolate actually come from the cocoa, which contains flavonoids. Flavonoids are compounds that have been shown in previous studies to lower blood pressure, increase good (HDL) cholesterol and improve arterial function. These antioxidant flavonoids can also thin the blood and prevent clotting, which can also help prevent heart attacks and, as seen in this new study, strokes.

“Cocoa flavonoids can reduce blood stickiness to prevent clot formation. They can also help the arteries to manage changes in blood pressure, by helping dilate arteries to accommodate blood flow better,” Catherine Collins, principal dietitian at St George's hospital in London, told Alok Jha at the Guardian.

The researchers are quick to point out, however, that other substances found in chocolate could just as easily explain the positive results. The team also note that traits found in certain individuals may also show a more positive linking to eating chocolate and stroke prevention.

In the current study, participating men answered questions about education, weight, height, smoking, physical activity, history of hypertension and other cardiac events, alcohol usage, and diet as a baseline for analysis.

Weekly chocolate consumption was assessed through a food frequency questionnaire. Over the course of the study, the majority of the chocolate consumed was milk chocolate, which is generally most-often consumed in Sweden as a whole, said the researchers. And the team did not assess which types of chocolate were more successful in preventing stroke.

Over the study period, men had incidents of stroke recorded through the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry. There were 1,995 incidents of first stroke by the Dec. 31, 2008 follow-up date. After adjusting for other factors, men in the highest quartile of chocolate consumption eluded stroke by 17 percent more over those in the lowest quartile.

Since there is a possibility that other ingredients found in chocolate may be playing part to the reduced stroke risk, the authors theorize that caffeine could be one of those ingredients. Although, quantities of caffeine in chocolate are generally much less than in most coffees, and it is likely caffeine alone could not fully explain the positive effects of eating chocolate.

The authors also noted that there were a number of limitations involved in the study, such as relying on self-reports of chocolate consumption, lack of data between different types of chocolate, and lack of measurement for residual confounders.

Larsson also found that those who ate the most chocolate were younger, had a college education, used aspirin, and were less likely to be current smokers, and have a history of cardiac events. These participants were also more likely to be trimmer and consume more fruits, vegetables and red meats, as well as alcohol.

While the results of the study are noteworthy, the Stroke Association warned that it doesn´t mean men should start eating access amounts of chocolate to make themselves healthier.

“Past research has shown that eating dark chocolate might go some way to reducing your stroke risk if it is eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet,” Dr. Clare Walton of the Stroke Association, told BBC News. “This study suggests that eating a moderate amount of other types of chocolate could also be beneficial in men.”

“However, a lot more research is needed and these results should not be used as an excuse for men to eat chocolate as an alternative to regular exercise or eating a healthy diet to reduce their risk of stroke,” said Watson.

“Studies seem to demonstrate a benefit on cardiovascular health with chocolate consumption but, as in this study, other factors such as eating more fruits and veg, smoking less, and a modest intake of alcohol also assist in maintaining cardiovascular health. A little of what you fancy does you good, but in terms of chocolate, choose one with at least 40-50% cocoa solid content if you want to boost your flavonoid intake,” Collins explained.

Larsson and colleagues acknowledge that more research is needed and also warn of the high sugar and fat content of chocolate. “It should be consumed in moderation,” they said.

Moderation is definitely the key here, added Friedman, who was not involved in the study. “Eating five chocolate bars a week might be worse for you in terms of obesity than it is good for you in terms of stroke risk,” he told CNN.