August 29, 2011

Consumption Of Chocolate Linked To Heart Health


There has been a highly-publicized string of studies in recent years showing potential health benefits from eating chocolate, dark chocolate in particular, which contain flavanol compounds believed to be good for the blood system.

On Monday, the European Society of Cardiology Congress was informed of research suggesting that chocolate consumption might be associated with a one third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease, but why there should be such a link was unclear.

In an attempt to paint a clearer image from all the data, Oscar Franco and colleagues from the University of Cambridge pooled results from seven studies involving 100,000 people. Five of the studies showed enhanced benefits between eating chocolate and cardiovascular health, while two of the studies failed to do so.

Overall, the findings showed the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.

There were limitations with the pooled analysis, Franco explained, which did not differentiate between dark and milk chocolate, and suggested more research was needed.

“Evidence does suggest chocolate might have some heart health benefits but we need to find out why that might be,” Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters. “If you want to reduce your heart disease risk, there are much better places to start than at the bottom of a box of chocolates.”

Dr. David Katz, director of medical studies in public health at Yale University, explained to ABC News: “This paper merely shows us that the association between habitual intake of chocolate and lower cardiometabolic risk is ℠statistically robust.´ But what if happier people eat more chocolate, and are at lower cardiometabolic risk because they are happier? This paper cannot address such subtleties.”

The large numbers don´t prove cause and effect, Katz explained. The review does, however, support chocolate as a healthful indulgence -- in moderation, of course. “This is a wonderful example of the opportunity to love food that loves us back. However, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing.”

The authors frame their results with some caution, in particular because commercially available chocolate is high-calorie (around 500 calories for every 100 grams) and consuming too much of it could in itself lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease.

However, they conclude that, given the health benefits of eating chocolate, initiatives to reduce the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products should be explored.

Katz says the next step is to establish a therapeutic window similar to that for red wine. “Our conclusion is that dark chocolate -- 60 percent cocoa or higher -- and liquid cocoa have clear, potential benefits in terms of overall cardiac risk, but that we don´t yet know enough about optimal dosing to best use this food ℠as medicine,´” Katz said.

The results of the study were also published in the British Medical Journal on August 29.


On the Net: