Oct 11 (Reuters) - Tempted by a chocolate bar? Maybe indulging every so often is not a bad thing -- especially if it's dark chocolate.
According to a Swedish study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that looked at more than 33,000 women, the more chocolate the women said they ate, the lower their risk of stroke.
The results add to a growing body of evidence linking cocoa consumption to heart health, but they aren't a free pass to gorge on chocolate.
"Given the observational design of the study, findings of this study cannot prove that it's chocolate that lowers the risk of stroke," said Susanna Larsson from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, in an email to Reuters Health.
While she believes chocolate has health benefits, she also warned that eating too much of it could be counterproductive.
"Chocolate should be consumed in moderation as it is high in calories, fat and sugar. As dark chocolate contains more cocoa and less sugar than milk chocolate, consumption of dark chocolate would be more beneficial."
Larsson and her colleagues tapped into data from a mammography study that included self-reports of how much chocolate women ate in 1997. The women ranged in age from 49 to 83 years.
Over the next decade, there were 1,549 strokes among the group. The more chocolate women ate, the lower their risk.
Among those with the highest weekly chocolate intake, more than 45 grams, there were 2.5 strokes per 1,000 women per year. That figure was 7.8 per 1,000 among women who at the least, less than 8.9 grams a week.
Scientists speculate that substances known as flavonoids, in particular so-called flavanois, may be responsible for chocolate's apparent impact on health.
According to Larsson, flavonoids have been shown to cut high blood pressure, a risk factor for strokes, and improve other blood factors linked to heart health. Whether that theoretical benefit translates to real-life benefits remains to be proven by rigorous studies, however.
Nearly 800,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke every year, with about a sixth of them dying of it and many more left disabled.
For those at high risk, doctors recommend blood pressure medicine, quitting smoking, exercising more and eating a healthier diet -- but so far, chocolate isn't on the list. SOURCE: bit.ly/qhsaZ0
Reporting from New York by Frederik Joelving at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies