Study: can chocolate prevent heart attacks and strokes?

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Researchers in Boston and Seattle are launching the first major study of cocoa flavanols, which in previous smaller studies improved blood pressure, cholesterol, the body’s use of insulin, artery health and other heart-related factors.

The question is whether pills containing the nutrients in dark chocolate can help prevent heart attacks and strokes, The Seattle Times reports.

The study will enroll 18,000 men and women across the country.

“People eat chocolate because they enjoy it,” not because they think it’s good for them, and the idea of the study is to see whether there are health benefits from chocolate’s ingredients minus the sugar and fat, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The Associated Press reports participants in the study will get dummy pills or two capsules a day of cocoa flavanols for four years, and neither they nor the study leaders will know who is taking what during the study. The flavanol capsules are coated and have no taste.

In the other part of the study, participants will get dummy pills or daily multivitamins containing a broad range of nutrients.

The AP reports the study will be sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc., maker of M&M's and Snickers bars. The candy company has patented a way to extract flavanols from cocoa in high concentration and put them in capsules. Mars and some other companies sell cocoa extract capsules, but with less active ingredient than those that will be tested in the study; candy contains even less.

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