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Chocolate and the heart

Posted by medconsumers on August 29, 2011

Eat chocolate and you may also cut your risk of heart disease. A new analysis of the best studies on this topic showed that the higher the consumption of chocolate, the lower the risk of this leading cause of death worldwide. And no, the analysis was not funded by the chocolate industry; in fact, its authors state their study “received no specific funding.”  Presumably, it was a public service.

The health effects of cocoa and chocolate have been well studied over the years and shown to have anti-oxidant,  anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, and anti-thrombotic effects.  You don’t even need a translation for these medical terms to know that they collectively mean “good for the cardiovascular system.”

The research question that lingered, however, is this: Does high chocolate consumption actually cut the risk of having a heart attack or stroke?

This is the question the new analysis, published online today in the British Medical Journal, came close to answering. An international team of researchers led by Adriana Buitrago-Lopez searched for all studies that had compared people who ate a lot of chocolate with those who did not.  After assessing the quality of these studies, the researchers singled out seven that met their criteria for high quality.

The seven studies in this analysis had a combined total of over 114,000 participants. All but one had matched people with high chocolate intake with those of the same age, gender, health status, etc. who did not eat much chocolate.  All explored the effect of chocolate consumption on various factors like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome, which are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Here’s the bottom line: Five of the seven studies showed that the people who ate the most chocolate had about one-third lower rate of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke than those who ate less chocolate. Unfortunately, this is not a definitive conclusion because it is based on the less trustworthy form of research called observational studies.

What’s more, this analysis did not come close to answering the questions on your mind right now, such as how much chocolate can I eat? And what type of chocolate is best? There were large variations in how the chocolate consumption was measured in these studies. And the study participants with high chocolate intake were eating all different types of chocolate consumed in different forms like candy bars, milk chocolate, and cocoa drinks.

Naturally, the authors of this analysis advised moderation and added the standard warning “more research is needed.”

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers©

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