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More evidence that dark chocolate can prevent heart disease

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:29pm

6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day could protect you from inflammation and cardiovascular disease, according to the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy.

The research was produced in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute of Milan, and is the first of it’s kind to be based on a population study.  Scientists studied the inflammation mechanism:  Chronic inflammatory conditions increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, from myocardial infarction to stroke.  Therefore, controlling inflammation levels is a significant feature of prevention programmes.  The C reactive protein (a plasma protein produced by the liver and adipocytes) has been found to be one of the most promising indicators.

Scientists measured levels of the C reactive protein in the blood of people who continued to consume their usual chocolate intake.  Romina di Giuesppe, principle author of the study explained: “We started from the hypothesis that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state. Our results have been absolutely encouraging: people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced.” He added: “The 17% average reduction observed may appear quite small, but it is enough to decrease the risk of cardio-vascular disease for one third in women and one fourth in men. It is undoubtedly a remarkable outcome”.

Cardiovascular disease is preventable, yet kills more than 110,000 people in England every year.  According to The Department of Health, more than 1.4 million people suffer from angina, and 275,000 people have a heart attack every year, making this disease the biggest killer in the country.

Giuesppe warns that chocolate amounts are crucial to the level of their protection: “We are talking of a moderate consumption. The best effect is obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7 grams of chocolate per day, corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week. Beyond these amounts the beneficial effect tends to disappear”.

Milk chocolate however does not carry the same benefits.  Previous studies have shown that milk inhibits the absorption of polyphenols, a critical element that affects the C reactive protein.

Researchers considered the potential impact of variables such as the consumption of other healthy food including wine, fruits and vegetables, and exercise. Giuesppe said: “we adjusted for all possible “confounding” parameters. But the beneficial effect of chocolate still remained and we do believe it is real”.

Licia Iacoviello, Head of the Laboratory of Genetic and Environmental Epidemiology at the Catholic University of Campobasso commented: “We consider this outcome as the beginning of a large series of data which will give us an innovative view on how making prevention in everyday life, both against cardiovascular disease and tumors”.

Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University of Campobasso, added:  “Maybe, time has come to reconsider the Mediterranean diet pyramid and take the dark chocolate off the basket of sweets considered to be bad for our health”.

The research is published in the Journal of Nutrition.

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Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 at 8:39 pm
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