Eating Chocolate May Halve Risk of Risk of Dying
Regular consumption of cocoa may halve risk of dying and lower blood pressure, suggests a Dutch study in elderly men. But it is not necessarily good news for chocoholics, experts caution.
At five year intervals over a 15-year period, 470 men aged over 65 were questioned about their dietary intake of cocoa and received physical examinations. The men were placed in three groups according to their level of cocoa consumption and data about their health was collected. During the study, 314 men died, 152 due to cardiovascular disease.
“The men in the group that consumed the least cocoa were twice as likely to die from a heart attack than those in the group that consumed the most cocoa – at least 4g per day – and the risk remained lower even when other factors such as smoking, physical exercise and weight were taken into account,” says lead researcher Brian Buijsse, at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “And men in the study who consumed the most cocoa were less likely to die of any cause,” he adds.
Insulin sensitivityThe high-cocoa men also had significantly lower blood pressure than the other groups – but Buijsse says that the link between low blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease cannot be made from his results. Instead, he says that cocoa-containing antioxidant chemicals, called flavanols, may be the cause.
“Flavan-3-ols have a positive effect on endothelial function [the function of cells lining the blood vessels] improving the elasticity of the blood vessels so that they respond better to changes in blood stream. They also improve insulin sensitivity,” Buijsse says.
“But chocolate contains many calories, so we are not recommending that people go out and eat lots of chocolate,” he adds.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) also urges caution, saying that while there is some evidence that when eaten in small quantities, dark chocolate might have some beneficial effects on blood vessels and lowering blood pressure, no study has investigated the long-terms clinical effects.
"Healthy" chocolate“This small study reinforces the fact that more still needs to be done to determine how eating cocoa affects coronary heart disease in the long term,” says Cathy Ross, BHF’s medical spokeswoman.
The study is published just days after confectionary giant Mars announced in the US it is to market a “healthy” chocolate bar with boosted flavanols and added vitamins, which was greeted with scepticism by nutritionists.
“The key thing to remember about such studies is that chocolate is more often part of the problem, not the solution,” Ross told New Scientist.
“Cocoa is rarely tolerable in large amounts in its raw state and therefore to consume the suggested therapeutic amount you would have to have 100g of dark chocolate per day. This would mean an average intake of 500 calories per 100g with an average of 30% fat content,” she points out.
Journal reference: Archives of Internal Medicine (vol 166, p 411)
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