Chocolate 'offenders' teach science sweet lesson about heart health
Perhaps being a "chocoholic" isn't such a bad thing after all, at least when it comes to your heart.
It turns out that some chocolate aficionados taking part in a study investigating blood platelet clumping couldn't stick to a promise to temporarily give up their sweet of choice and they inadvertently ended up doing medical science a favor.
Their dietary offense led researchers to uncover what may be the first biochemical explanation underlying the confection's effect in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Just a few squares of dark-chocolate a day can cut the risk of dying from a heart attack almost in half.
What these chocolate 'offenders' taught researchers is that the chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to Aspirin (ASA) in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack.
That doesn't mean that people should start indulging in lots of chocolate candy, which often contains unhealthy quantities of sugar, butter and cream.
But as little as 30 milliliters (two tablespoons) a day of dark-chocolate, made from the dried extract of roasted cocoa beans and considered the purest form, could have a heart-healthy effect.
Dark-chocolate is chock full with flavonoids, which have long been known to lower blood pressure and have other beneficial effects on blood flow.
The research study identified the effects of typical doses of chocolate found in ordinary foods, unlike previous studies that found decreased platelet activity only at super doses of flavonoids equivalent to eating kilograms of chocolate a day.
Eating a little bit of dark-chocolate or having a drink of hot cocoa as part of a regular diet is good for personal health, so long as people don't eat too much of it and certainly too much of the kind with lots of butter and sugar.
The Genetic Study of Aspirin Responsiveness (GeneSTAR), conducted at Johns Hopkins between June 2004 and November 2005, began by enrolling more than 500 men and 700 women, aged 21 to 80, to examine the effects of ASA on blood platelets.
Prior to starting an ASA regimen, participants were to stay on a strict program of exercise and to refrain from smoking or using foods and drinks known to affect platelet activity, including caffeine-containing drinks, wine, grapefruit juice and chocolate.
When 139 participants were disqualified for the main study after admitting to eating chocolate, the researchers decided to analyze their blood to determine chocolate's effect on platelets.
When platelet samples from both compliers and non-compliers were analyzed, researchers found that the chocolate lovers' platelets were less reactive, taking on average 130 seconds to clog up a mechanical blood vessel system.
Platelets from those who avoided chocolate clotted faster, at 123 seconds.
A second test, designed to detect waste products from platelet activity in urine, showed that chocolate eaters had significantly lower activity and waste products on average compared with chocolate abstainers.
In all, more than 200 different tests of platelet reactivity were performed.
Although none of the chocolate offenders had previous heart problems, all had a slightly increased risk of heart disease because of family history.
"These results really bring home the point that a modest dietary practice can have a huge impact on blood and potentially on the health of people at a mildly elevated risk of heart disease."
Did you know that you can eat dark-chocolate to treat high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a worldwide issue, not just in the United States.
In fact, in a study found that an astonishing 80 percent of deaths attributable to high blood pressure occurred in the developing world, not in industrialized nations.
Dark-chocolate has a full range of beneficial phytonutrients, plant compounds that have health-protecting qualities.
These include antioxidants, flavonoids, phenols and essential minerals which have been widely written about.
But despite what you may have heard, it’s not simply antioxidants in chocolate that protect your heart and lower your blood pressure.
The secret to dark-chocolate’s effect on blood pressure is a flavonol found in cocoa called epicatechin.
A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that it’s epicatechin that relaxes your blood vessels, which contributes to lower blood pressure.
And you really don’t need much to get the effect.
A new study finds that even low doses of epicatechin are heart-protective.
It’s so powerful that Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said epicatechin should be classified as a vitamin.
He spent years observing the Kuna people in Panama.
They have a less than 10% chance of problems like high blood pressure, as well as stroke, diabetes, cancer and heart failure.
What makes the Kuna different?
They drink lots of cocoa.
Up to 40 cups a week.
That’s not proof that cocoa prevents each of those individual diseases, but it’s enough to make you wonder.
Can you imagine a better way to reduce your blood pressure?
But you can’t just eat ordinary candy bars.
You have to make sure you eat the right type of chocolate.
One reason is that flavonols like epicatechin are usually removed for consumer chocolate because they taste bitter.
That’s why dark-chocolate is best.
It has the highest percentage of cocoa, and will have the most epicatechin.
The other reason an average milk chocolate candy bar won’t do the job was discovered by Italian researchers.
They found that milk interferes with the heart benefits of chocolate.
Not only that, but ordinary chocolate bars have lots of sugar, or even high fructose corn syrup.
And chocolate bars you can buy in the store have the wrong kinds of oils.
If you look at the labels, you’ll see things like soy protein, which you want to stay away from.
But we have to be careful to emphasize that one single healthy dietary practice cannot be taken alone, but must be balanced with exercise and other healthy lifestyle practices that impact the heart.Tweet
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