Once portrayed as a dietary villain, chocolate is now touted for its health benefits, especially those that are heart-related. But there’s a catch, a top cardiologist says.
“We are learning that chocolate can be part of a heart healthy diet, but there are a couple of caveats – you can’t eat too much of it, and you have to chose the right type,” Dr. Chauncey Crandall tells Newsmax Health.
The heath benefits of chocolate are so intriguing that recruitment is now underway for a large-scale study that will examine the effects of cocoa and multivitamin supplements on heart disease and cancer, he noted.
Called the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, or COSMOS, the research project was launched earlier this year by Brigham Children & Women’s Hospital, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Women’s Health Initiative, which is the influential group that transformed how hormone therapy is used to treat postmenopausal women.
The study will help determine whether concentrated cocoa extract can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and whether commonly used multivitamins can help reduce the risk of cancer, particularly in older women.
“That the scientific community is looking at chocolate’s health effects does not surprise me at all. The idea that the cocoa bean has medicinal properties dates back centuries, particularly in Mexico and Spain, notes Dr. Crandall, author of the No. 1 Amazon bestseller “The Simple Heart Cure” and the Heart Health Repor
Chocolate, particularly the dark type, contains flavanols that have antioxidant-like properties that help to protect the body from the effects of aging. High concentrations of flavanols are found in cocoa, as well as tea, wine, and certain types of fruits and vegetables.
Chocolate has also been found to boost nitric oxide levels in the blood, which can widen coronary arteries and increase blood flow.
Although people have consumed chocolate as a healing agent since ancient times, modern food manufacturers have added sugar and dairy products to chocolate — turning it into high-calorie, less healthy confection.
“In order for chocolate to be healthy, you have to go back to its pure, historic form, which is dark chocolate,” says Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Many studies tout the health benefits of chocolate. Among the benefits:
Boost your sex drive:
Maybe there’s a reason chocolates are a gift of choice for Valentine’s Day? In fact, eating chocolate can lead to higher levels of desire, arousal, and sexual satisfaction because it contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), which releases the same mood-altering endorphins that occur during sex, according to an Italian study reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Combat heart disease:
A recent study in the U.K. found middle aged and older adults that eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day (that’s more than two standard Hershey bars) seem to have lower rates of heart disease than those who spurn chocolate. Among those in the top tier of chocolate consumption, 12 percent developed or died of cardiovascular disease during the 11-year study period compared to 17.4 percent of the non-chocolate eaters, according to the research, published in Heart.
Cacao — made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans — contains plant sterols, which also occur naturally in small amounts of other cholesterol-lowering foods, such as certain grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and which manufacturers also add to foods to lower cholesterol.
Prevent memory decline:
A Harvard Medical School study found participants who drank two cups of specially prepared cocoa a day did better on learning and memory tests. There was no difference whether the participants drank regular cocoa or a special brew laced with antioxidants.
Lower blood pressure:
After sifting through 20 studies, the Cochrane Library found chocolate reduced blood pressure by at least a few points on average, which they attributed to the flavanols it contains.
Canadian scientists conducted a study involving nearly 50,000 people and found that chocolate eaters were 22 percent less likely to suffer a stroke. Not only that but those who had suffered a stroke, but regularly consumed chocolate, were 46 percent less likely to die.
Most these findings have come from observational studies, which examined the habits of people who eat chocolate and then compared their cardiovascular disease rates to those who do not.
While such studies are useful, they are not as rigorous as randomized clinical trials, in which a specific agent — in this case the cocoa extract — is given to different groups, and the results are compared to those that did consume it.
Although there have been a few small randomized studies that have examined at chocolate, the COSMOS study will be a large, long-range research project designed to really ascertain whether there are health benefits in eating chocolate and, if so, which ones.
In the meantime, Dr. Crandall advises that those who like chocolate to follow his lead.
“Every so often, I have a couple of squares of chocolate as a healthy indulgence, but it must be dark chocolate and only in small amounts,” he says.
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