Tuesday, August 30, 2011
CHOCOLATE MAY PROTECT THE BRAIN AND HEART
Data from 114,009 patients suggested risk was cut by about a third, according to a study published on the BMJ website.
But the researchers warned that excessive consumption would result in other illnesses.
The British Heart Foundation said there were better ways to protect the heart.
The analysis, conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge, compared the risk to the brain and heart in groups of people who reported eating low levels of chocolate, fewer than two bars per week, with those eating high levels - more than two bars per week.
It showed that the "highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels".
One of the researchers, Dr Oscar Franco, said chocolate was known to decrease blood pressure.
He told the BBC the findings were "promising", but needed further research to confirm any protective effect.
The study also warns that chocolate can lead to weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. It suggested that chocolate could one day be used to protect from heart problems and stroke - if the sugar and fat content of chocolate bars was reduced.
Dr Franco added: "The advice if you don't eat chocolate is not to start eating chocolate" for those who do eat chocolate he recommended people "avoid binge-eating" and to eat "small amounts on a regular basis".
It is not clear how much chocolate confers health benefits, Franco said. There was no way of telling how much chocolate was eaten by those who consumed the most of it, he explained. However, having chocolate regularly seemed to be important, he said.
These studies compared people who consumed chocolate more than once a week with those who ate it less often, Franco said.
"We still need to clarify the quantity that permits chocolate to prevent heart disease," he said. "Given the amount of sugar and calories in chocolate, we don't think it's going to be a high quantity."
The study included consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts.
Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented that "despite chocolates indulgent reputation, there is growing evidence that cocoa products which contain high levels of flavonoids may have a variety of actions which are potentially beneficial for cardiovascular and metabolic health."
Several recent studies have suggested the flavonoids found in cocoa products have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting effects and may also relax blood vessels, Fonarow said. He added that they may also improve insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk for diabetes.
However, the studies reviewed in this report were observational -- that is, they looked at data based on what people ate. Clinical trials, where chocolate is pitted against a placebo, are needed to see if the effect of chocolate is real, Fonarow said.
"Moderate consumption of dark chocolate may be a reasonable consideration as part of a heart health diet," he said. "However, as there is a complex interplay between nutrition and health, further studies are needed."
Nutrition expert Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., added that "the cocoa bean contains healthy plant compounds like flavanols, called polyphenols, that act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. [They may] help keep arteries healthy and may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Fruits, vegetables and legumes also contain high amounts of polyphenols, along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, Heller said. "So, enjoy some dark chocolate periodically and watch your portion size, but get the bulk of your polyphenols from fruits and vegetables."
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Evidence does suggest chocolate might have some heart health benefits but we need to find out why that might be.
"We can't start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research.
"It didn't explore what it is about chocolate that could help and if one particular type of chocolate is better than another.
"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."