Health and chocolate

Frequent chocolate consumption could reduce CHD risk, US study

By Jane Byrne , 21-Sep-2010

Frequent chocolate consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of coronary heart disease (CHD) in men and women independent of traditional risk factors, according to a review of a national US based heart, lung and blood study.

The conclusions, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, come on the back of a body of research pointing to the positive impact of flavonoids in chocolate.

And the authors, including researchers based at the Harvard Medical School and the Boston University School of Medicine, argue that their findings are consistent with a recent study in the German Heart Journal which showed dark chocolate intake was associated with a 39 per cent lower risk of myocardial infarction and stroke combined.

Dark chocolate belongs to the flavonoid-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, tea, and red wine, with epidemiologic evidence indicates that beneficial effects of these on CHD are partly mediated through the effects of their polyphenolic compounds.
The authors hold that while interventional studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure and endothelial function, there is, in fact, limited data available on the effects of total chocolate intake on CHD.

And they decided to analyse data taken from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Family Heart Study to evaluate this link.

The scientists explained that, using a cross-sectional design, they studied 4,970 participants aged 25 to 93 years, whose chocolate intake had been assessed through a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire. “We used generalized estimating equations to estimate adjusted odds ratios,” said the authors.

Of the total study cohort, 2,258 participants were men while 2,712 were women. The average age was 52.0 years and CHD prevalence was 10.9 per cent, added the researchers.

The researchers found that there was evidence for an inverse association between frequency of chocolate consumption and prevalent CHD in crude and adjusted models.

In the fully adjusted model, consumption of chocolate more than five times a week was associated with 57 per cent lower prevalent CHD compared with subjects who did not consume chocolate.

“Exclusion of subjects with prevalent diabetes and those who were on a weight loss diet made the association stronger,” they added.

They said that similar associations were observed in subjects who were 60 years of age or younger and those above the age of 60. Furthermore, they said, similar associations were seen among smokers and non-smokers.

Study’s limitations
The researchers admit, however, that the cross-sectional design of their study limits their ability to draw casual inference. “In addition, misclassification and reporting bias are inherent to self-reported data on chocolate consumption and we were not able to differentiate dark from milk or lighter chocolate,” they stated.

But the authors also stress that the inability to distinguish the different types of chocolate might have led to an underestimation of the true association between cocoa/chocolate polyphenol consumption and CHD in the study.

And they argue that large sample size (most of whom were from population-based studies), the availability on multiple CHD risk factors, and the multi-centre nature of the study are the strengths of the study.

What does chocolate do for me ?

Like with any food, it is good to know how it affects your body.
Chocolate has many beneficial properties, but just like with red wine ……..

These polyphenols are called flavonoids

Chocolate has twice the amount found in red wine and 3 times that found in green tea

They have an antioxidant property, which means that they neutralize “free radicals” that are in the atmosphere or the body from smoke, pollution and sunlight

Free radicals are small reactive molecules that cause damage to the cells in the body. They are cancer causing and are a main cause of aging, so that means that chocolate can aid in cancer prevention and is an anti-aging product !

They contribute to healthy cardiovascular function, as they reduce the blood’s ability to slot and stick to artery walls, thus reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

Acts similarly to low dose aspirin in promoting healthy blood flow

Dark chocolate is higher in flavonoids than milk chocolate

It is a mild stimulant

Has been known to prevent coughs

Has a mild diuretic action (increase urine production)

This property is what makes chocolate toxic to animals like dogs, cats, parrots and horses.

Is a stimulant

Amount is very low, much less than in coffee, tea or cola.

Is a mild anti depressant

It is called the “love chemical” as it mediates feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness and euphoria

Some cultures in the Caribbean use chocolate mixed with cane sugar as an aphrodisiac during wedding celebrations

If this concoction is taken in large amounts, it becomes a hallucinogen

Is a stimulant similar to your body’s own dopamine and adrenalin, which promotes increased blood flow and stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.

Chocolate increases level of serotonin in the brain, which helps with depression and PMS symptoms.

Vitamins and Minerals
Contains amounts of magnesium (helps with PMS symptoms), calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese

Contains vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, and pantothenic acid

All these help in keeping blood pressure low, your blood flowing freely and your heart healthy.

An essential amino acid which lessens anxiety by producing the neurotransmitter, serotonin

This in turn causes the body to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural opiates

Promotes relaxation

Reduces sensitivity to pain (pain reliever).

One of the natural opiates (endorphins) that are released is Anandamide, which acts like a cannabinoid to produce the “chocolate high”

When drugs are used to block the brain’s opiate receptors, the desire for chocolate (and other sweet foods) disappears, confirming chocolate’s addictive nature.

The 12 step chocoholics program … NEVER BE MORE THAN 12 STEPS AWAY FROM CHOCOLATE !!!  (Terry Moore).

Cocoa Bean Husk
The outer part of the bean has properties that thwart mouth bacteria and tooth decay (it’s antibacterial!)

The extract may one day be added to mouthwash and tooth paste and put back into the chocolate product to make it better for our teeth.

Babies born to mothers that eat chocolate daily were found to be more active and positively reactive (smiling and laughter).

They showed less fear of new situations than babies of non-chocolate eating mothers

This was found to be due to the relaxed, well being effect that chocolate promotes.


Chocolate is good for cardiovascular health

Having highlighted the anti- depressant and cardio-protective virtues of chocolate, this is a trial which reveals the mechanisms. The flavonoids in chocolate exert a relaxing effect on the arteries, and more particularly the epicatechin.

The large family of flavonoids

The effects of chocolate on cardiovascular health have been attributed to the flavonoids contained in cocoa. These substances constitute a very wide range of natural ingredients belonging to the polyphenol family. Their contribution to health was initially revealed by their presence in red wine with the famous tannins.

Relaxation of the vessels

In order to more precisely determine the mechanism by which cocoa influences cardiovascular health, researchers undertook a study consisting of asking healthy respondents to drink different types of cocoa-based drinks. These varied according to the nature of the flavonoids they contained.
It was observed that only a chocolate drink rich in epicatechin lead to a relaxation of the blood vessels.
In order to confirm this discovery, participants this time received either a placebo or a solution containing only the epicatechin derived from cocoa. The latter group alone showed a vascular response identical to that of people having consumed a drink rich in cocoa.

It was concluded that epicatechin is the flavonoid responsible for the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa.
It should be noted that, although this molecule is particularly abundant in cocoa, it is also found in fruits, vegetables, red wine and green tea.

Dr Philippe Presles, adapted by C. De Kock, health journalist

Chocolate: a new miracle product for diabetes, CVA and vascular dementia

Scientists have identified antioxidants in cocoa which may improve the treatment of diabetes, cerebral vascular accidents and vascular dementia
Over the last six years, scientific research has completely reviewed the nutritional advantages of chocolate. The high point of this update: the revelation of an extraordinary richness in polyphenols - antioxidants- in cocoa and therefore, in chocolate.

By way of comparison, dark chocolate is richer in these antioxidants than most fruits and, especially, red wine, whose virtues for the hearts have been unanimously praised. They all depend on these molecules which are as numerous as they are complex.

The first discoveries underlined the cardio-protective effects of cocoa and dark chocolate. New research indicates that in the future, the polyphenols in chocolate may also contribute to the treatment of diabetes, cerebral vascular accidents and vascular dementia.

Scientists working for one of the world's largest producers of chocolate have recently explained that these molecules could soon be available for the development of new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry!

From chocolate to pill

"Currently, we are getting more and more consistent experimental and clinical results for the molecules in question says Dr Norm Hollenberg, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and one of the first scientists to identify the therapeutic potential of flavenols in cocoa

Today we can say with certainty that they are specifically responsible for reducing platelet aggregation with a similar effect to that of aspirin which makes the blood more fluid and therefore reduces the risk of thrombosis. This discovery has major implications for pharmaceutical applications.
New clinical studies have also revealed that the flavenols in cocoa can increase blood flow in certain areas of the brain, which constitutes a potential avenue for the treatment of vascular conditions in older people, notably vascular dementia and cerebral vascular accidents.

Good for diabetics too!

And the effects of flavenols in cocoa do not stop there. Studies show that they are also capable of significantly reducing blood pressure in hypertense diabetics. The reason for this being that the flavenols in cocoa improve the synthesis of nitrous monoxide by the blood vessels, which increases blood flow. In other words there is a dilation of the arteries and pressure is reduced
These results seem to indicate that flavenols in cocoa are beneficial in the treatment of serious vascular complications associated with long-term diabetes. This is astonishing for a foodstuff which people suffering this condition have long been banned from eating
But the studies do not say that you have to gorge yourself on chocolate. On the one hand, the effects are mainly attributed to the consumption of dark chocolate, which is generally less popular and on the other hand, chocolate is rich in fats and sugars and therefore in calories. Like red wine, it should be consumed in moderation!

Nicolas Rousseau, nutritionist dietician