Chocolate may boost heart health, study says
Devoted consumers of chocolate — including those who eat up to two candy bars a day — are 11% less likely than those who eat little to no chocolate to have heart attacks and strokes, researchers have found.
Chocolate eaters are also 25% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, according to the study published Monday in the journal Heart.
That news emerged from a long-running British study that tracked nearly 21,000 adults around Norfolk, England, for an average of 12 years.
Those in the top one-fifth of chocolate consumers ate about half an American-sized candy bar a day. Those in the bottom 20th percentile averaged just 1.1 grams per day.
Those in the highest chocolate-consuming group also had lower average body-mass indexes, systolic blood pressure and diabetes rates.
The researchers lashed together the findings of nine other studies — encompassing 159,809 people — to provide further context for their findings.
That analysis found that compared with chocolate abstainers, heavy chocolate consumers were 25% less likely to suffer a wide range of cardiovascular ills and 45% less likely to die of those ills.
Dr. Farzaneh Aghdassi Sorond of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said it was time for these kinds of “observational studies” to give way to trials that probe deeper questions: Is it chocolate, or something else that comes with a chocolate-eating life, that makes people healthier?
And if it is chocolate, what is it specifically about this long-consumed bean that confers better health?
Studies like this one, Sorond said, can’t draw a clear line of cause and effect between eating chocolate and better health.
“Causality is the issue that remains unanswered, and that’s going to have to be explored through clinical trials and interventions,” said Sorond, whose research has shown that when elderly people at high risk of stroke and dementia were given high quantities of cocoa to consume, the blood flow to their brains improved.
Sorond noted that in the current study, authors did little to distinguish grades of chocolate — and thus, the cocoa content.
Much of what subjects consumed appeared to be milk chocolate, which contains low levels of the plant flavonoids in cocoa that many researchers believe are chocolate’s beneficial ingredient.
“Are we really chasing the right thing focusing on the flavonols?” Sorond asked. “Or is there something else? Does chocolate consumption represent a socioeconomic status or some other kind of health factor? This paper underscores the issue we face.”
Such work is underway on a broad front, with scientists, confectioners and pharmaceutical companies all vying to play a role in chocolate’s next chapter.
Sorond said it may take four to five years to produce results, so it may be best to sit back, crack open a bar of dark chocolate and take heed of the advice dispensed by the authors of the latest research: “There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk.”
CHOCOLATE in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer. Heavy consumers were 25% less likely to suffer cardiovascular ills, researchers say.