Is chocolate good for your heart? It depends

PARIS Mon Aug 29, 2011 4:14am EDT

Chocolates topped with sunflower seeds are displayed during the 2nd Chocolate Fair in Barcelona in this October 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Chocolates topped with sunflower seeds are displayed during the 2nd Chocolate Fair in Barcelona in this October 21, 2006 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Albert Gea

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PARIS (Reuters) - Chocolate may be good for the heart but cardiologists are not giving you a license to indulge.

New research presented at Europe's biggest medical meeting Monday suggested chocolate consumption might be associated with a one third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.

Just why there should be such a link was unclear, the European Society of Cardiology congress was told.

There has been a string of scientific studies in recent years showing a potential health benefit from eating chocolate. Dark chocolate, in particular, contains compounds called flavanols thought to be good for the blood system.

In an attempt to paint a clearer picture, Oscar Franco and colleagues from the University of Cambridge pooled results from seven studies involving 100,000 people.

Five of the studies showed a beneficial link between eating chocolate and cardiovascular health, while two did not.

Overall, the findings showed the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.

Franco said there were limitations with the pooled analysis, which did not differentiate between dark and milk chocolate, and more research was needed to test whether chocolate actually caused better health outcomes or if it was due to some other confounding factor.

"Evidence does suggest chocolate might have some heart health benefits but we need to find out why that might be," said Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the research.

"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."

Franco, whose findings were also published online in the British Medical Journal, said while it seemed chocolate had heart benefits, these could easily be outweighed by the unhealthy nature of much confectionery.

"The high sugar and fat content of commercially available chocolate should be considered, and initiatives to reduce it might permit an improved exposure to the beneficial effect of chocolate," the research team wrote.

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Comments (2)
Nullcorp wrote:
Not a single one of the articles I’ve read about this recently mentions the most likely source of chocolate’s beneficial effects.

Honestly, in this day of easy keyword searches, I’m shocked at the poor communication between researchers studying different areas of medicine.

“Just why there should be such a link was unclear, the European Society of Cardiology congress was told.”

And yet, nutritionists know that chocolate is very high in arginine, an amino acid involved in the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO is perhaps the body’s most potent vasodilator. It causes blood vessels throughout the body to expand, which means that nutrients and oxygen can travel throughout the circulation more freely. It has other roles, and is involved in everything from diabetes to depression. The role of NO is described in thousands, if not tens of thousands, of studies on endothelial function and prevention of arterial plaque. “Heart disease” is just another word for calcification (buildup of plaque) of the vessels in the heart. In other words, arginine has the potential to clear arteries of plaque.

On the freely available PubMed database, find a study from 1990 entitled “Medical literature as a potential source of new knowledge,” which describes how specialized medical research often fails to incorporate knowledge from other areas. From the year 2000, a similar article, “Text-based discovery in biomedicine” states: “Current scientific research takes place in highly specialized contexts with poor communication between disciplines as a likely consequence.”

The latter article is over a decade old, and since then computers have become even more ubiquitous and accessible. Perhaps an intense, limited focus is necessary to perform medical research at the microscopic level. But it seems that more meta-analyses, or perhaps a new class of medical researchers who focus on the big picture instead of looking through the microscope, is needed to translate disparate results into something cohesive and useful to the public.

Aug 30, 2011 2:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
mhenrym wrote:
Well, Nullcorp. It is not issue of communication. Just chocolate lobby is not interested to find the link. Such “studies” are sponsored, and results from such studies have to be known before such research started. Any rate, I like chocolate and I eat one or two small pieces of chocolate a couple days per week, in spite of my chocolate hangover next day.

Aug 30, 2011 3:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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