New research links chocolate to heart health

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 30th August 2011

Scientists at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, have found high levels of chocolate consumption might be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.

The research findings, published in the British Medical Journal this week, confirm results of existing studies that generally agree on a potential beneficial link between chocolate consumption and heart health. However, the authors, led by Dr Oscar Franco, stress that further studies are needed to test whether chocolate actually causes this reduction or if it can be explained by some other unmeasured (confounding) factor.

The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, nearly 23.6 million people will die from heart disease. However, according to the research paper, lifestyle and diet are key factors in preventing heart disease.

Evidence about how eating chocolate affects your heart still remains unclear. Dr Franco and his colleagues analysed the results of seven studies, involving over 100,000 participants with and without existing heart disease. For each study, they compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption against the group with the lowest consumption.

They found that the “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels.” No significant reduction was found in relation to heart failure.

The authors say the findings need to be interpreted with caution, in particular because commercially available chocolate is very calorific (around 500 calories for every 100 grams) and eating too much of it could lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease.

However, they conclude that given the health benefits of eating chocolate, initiatives to reduce the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products should be explored.

Last week, Australian Food News reported on the new research by Dr Aaron Micallef, of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. He has designed new compounds that mimic the activity of antioxidants found in chocolate, which were claimed to have potential applications in fighting disease. The Australian Food News report can be found here.