A chocolate a day ...


Re­searchers try to dis­cover if chocolate low­ers stroke risk; more study needed.

TORONTO — Just shy of Valen­tine’s Day, a hol­i­day known for the sale and con­sump­tion of co­pi­ous amounts of chocolate, Cana­dian re­searchers have re­leased a re­view of stud­ies to as­sess whether eat­ing chocolate is as­so­ci­ated with a lower risk of stroke.

They looked through 88 pub­li­ca­tions and nar­rowed them down to three that were rel­e­vant.

But even af­ter that, Dr. Gus­tavo Sa­pos­nik, a self-de­scribed choco­holic and neu­rol­o­gist at St. Michael’s Hospi­tal in Toronto, said, “ You can’t draw con­clu­sions.”

The re­view was re­leased Thurs­day and will be pre­sented at the Amer­i­can Academy of Neu­rol­ogy’s an­nual meet­ing in Toronto in April.

“More re­search is needed to de­ter­mine whether chocolate truly low­ers stroke risk, or whether health­ier peo­ple are sim­ply more likely to eat chocolate than oth­ers,” said study au­thor Sarah Sahib of McMaster Uni­ver­sity in Hamil­ton, who worked along­side Sa­pos­nik.

One study pub­lished in 2007 in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nutri­tion looked at more than 34,000 post­menopausal women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study, and found that those who ate one serv­ing of chocolate per week were 22 per cent less likely to have a stroke than peo­ple who ate no chocolate.

An­other study pub­lished last year in the Jour­nal of In­ter­nal Medicine in­volved more than 1,100 peo­ple in Swe­den, and found that those who ate 50 grams of chocolate once a week were 46 per cent less likely to die fol­low­ing a stroke than peo­ple who did not eat chocolate. A third study found no link be­tween eat­ing chocolate and risk of stroke or death.

In the first two stud­ies, the find­ings are as­so­ci­a­tions, not cause-and-ef­fect. And there’s an im­por­tant caveat, Sa­pos­nik cau­tioned.

“ There is some con­found­ing is­sue here ... you can’t con­trol in th­ese stud­ies for what peo­ple may also eat out­side of a study.”

As well, sub­jects did not iden­tify what kind of chocolate they had eaten, and Sa­pos­nik notes there are dif­fer­ences.

“Milk chocolate or white chocolate or dark chocolate have com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tions,” he said, and prob­a­bly have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent pro­file on risk of stroke.

Chocolate — in par­tic­u­lar dark chocolate — con­tains flavonoids, com­pounds known for their an­tiox­i­dant prop­er­ties, and also found in vary­ing de­grees in fruit, veg­eta­bles, tea and red wine. They’ve been linked to po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for hu­man health.

In terms of long-term car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk, Sa­pos­nik said there are some com­po­nents of chocolate, such as sat­u­rated fat, that are as­so­ci­ated with an in­crease of bad choles­terol, the LDL choles­terol.

“ The rec­om­men­da­tion is do not eat chocolate,” he said, adding he tries to con­sume it only “in mod­er­a­tion” and chooses dark chocolate that’s low-fat.

To re­duce stroke risk, the Heart and Stroke Foun­da­tion of Canada rec­om­mends, among other things, eat­ing a bal­anced diet that’s higher in fruit and veg­eta­bles, re­duc­ing sat­u­rated and trans fats, re­duc­ing sodium con­sump­tion and in­creas­ing fi­bre.

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