Cho­co­late may boost heart health, study says

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Melissa Healy Twit­ter: @LATMelis­saHealy

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.”

Issouf Sanogo AFP/Getty Im­ages

CHO­CO­LATE in Abid­jan, Ivory Coast, the world’s top co­coa pro­ducer. Heavy con­sumers were 25% less likely to suf­fer car­dio­vas­cu­lar ills, re­searchers say.

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