April 28, 2008

New Study To Confirm Heart Benefits Of Chocolate

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. British researchers are seeking 150 volunteers for a new study to determine if eating a bar of chocolate every day over the course of a year can reduce the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women with type-2 diabetes.  

The study will begin in June, and aims to confirm whether or not adding a compound called flavonoids, found in cocoa and other foods, to the diet provides added protection against heart disease beyond that of prescription medications.

"Despite postmenopausal women being at a similar risk to men for developing cardiovascular disease, to date they are under-represented in clinical trials," the study's lead researcher, Professor Aedin Cassidy, told BBC News.

"We hope to show that adding flavonoids to their diets will provide additional protection from heart disease and give women the opportunity to take more control over reducing their risk of heart disease in the future."

The researchers will use a specially formulated form of chocolate that contains more flavonoids than usual to compensate for the fact that many flavonoids are destroyed in the process of turning cocoa into chocolate. Soy, another flavonoid source, has also been added to the special bars.

In women, deaths from heart disease increase markedly after menopause, and having type-2 diabetes further increases the risk by 350 percent.   If the study confirms the theory that flavonoids reduce this risk, it could have a far-reaching impact for at-risk women.

"We are looking at a high risk group first," Cassidy, a biochemist at the University of East Anglia, told Reuters.

"We hope there will be an additional benefit from dietary intervention in addition to the women's drug therapy."

Cassidy added that her team would also publish a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that shows flavonoids in soy and cocoa show the strongest effects in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Previous research has found that dark chocolate, rich in flavonoids, appears to lower blood pressure, improve the function of blood vessels and reduce the risk of heart attack.  Some companies, such as Hershey Co, Mars Inc and Lindt & Spruengli, have even adjusted marketing campaigns for their dark chocolate products to reflect the new knowledge its health benefits.

But experts question whether the high fat and sugar content of the most commonly sold chocolate may cancel out some of its benefits.

For her upcoming year-long study, Cassidy said half the participants would eat a super-charged chocolate bar containing 30 grams of flavonoids found in soy, cocoa and other fruits and vegetables. The others will get chocolate without the active compounds. All of the study's participants will be postmenopausal women under 70, who have type 2 diabetes and have been taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications for at least a year.

The team hopes the study will also have implications for the wider population if results show substantial benefits from the epicatechin found in cocoa and the isoflavones contained in soy. Cassidy said these flavonoids appear to have the strongest effects in reducing the risk of heart disease, a finding the team would also publish in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study's results could allow doctors to counsel patients on the types and amounts of foods that would reduce their risk of heart disease, Cassidy said.

This could also include other foods beyond just chocolate, she said.

"If this trial works we will be able to give advice on a whole range of foods," she added. "People won't have to go around eating a specially designed chocolate bar."

Some experts, such as Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, will be watching the study with interest.

"We certainly don't advise people to start eating a lot of chocolate as it is very high in sugar and fat," Frame told BBC News.

"We would always recommend that people with diabetes eat a diet low in fat, salt and sugar with plenty of fruit and vegetables."

"However, there are compounds found in chocolate, called flavonoids, that are thought to provide some protection from heart disease.

"A successful outcome of this research would hopefully mean being able to offer people at high risk better protection over and above that provided by conventional drugs."


On the Net:

ARTICLE: "Candy Bar Lowers Cholesterol and Blood Pressure"

University of East Anglia

Institute of Food Research

Diabetes UK