June 2, 2010

Can Chocolate Help You Cut Cholesterol?

New analysis of eight different studies shows that eating chocolate might bring down cholesterol levels in some people.

However, chocolate only seemed to help those who already had risk factors for heart disease, and only when consumed in modest amounts, Dr. Rutai Hui of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing found, along with colleagues.

Several studies have suggested that chocolate might be good for you. A study released in March showed that among 19,300 individuals, those who ate the most chocolate had lower blood pressure and were less likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack over the next 10 years.

But like the new analysis, that research came with cautions; the difference in chocolate consumption between the top and bottom chocolate-consuming groups was around 6 grams, or about one-seventh of a Hershey's milk chocolate bar.

In the new analysis, Hui and colleagues searched the medical literature to find studies that looked at how cocoa affected blood fats, or lipids, and found eight trials including 215 people. When the studies were analyzed together, the team found eating cocoa cut levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, by about 6 mg/dL and reduced total cholesterol by the same amount. However, in the three highest-quality studies, cocoa was found to have no effect.

Analysis also showed that only those who ate small amounts of cocoa -- containing 260 milligrams or less of polyphenols -- experienced cholesterol lowering effects. People who consumed more showed no effect.

Polyphenols are antioxidants found typically in fruits, vegetables, chocolate and red wine. A 1.25 ounce bar of milk chocolate contains about 300 milligrams of polyphenols.

The team also found that healthy people didn't get any cholesterol benefits from cocoa, but people with risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, saw their LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol drop by about 8 mg/dL each.

In certain groups of people, eating moderate amounts of cocoa could be a meaningful "dietary approach" for preventing high cholesterol, according to Hui and colleagues.

"Future research efforts should concentrate on higher-quality and more rigorous randomized trials with longer follow-ups to resolve the uncertainty regarding the clinical effectiveness. Then we can really eat chocolate without feeling guilty," said the team of researchers.

Findings of the study are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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