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Whip Out The Chocolate! New Studies Strengthen Link Between Chocolate And Heart Health

06/26/2015 07:15 am ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

We now have yet another reason to eat chocolate.

Researchers have previously reported a link between eating chocolate and improving declining memory loss, and now we find it may be good for our heart as well. It's the latest in a series of findings that former "no-nos," including snacking on peanuts and drinking coffee, could actually be a "yes" for heart health.

A new study lead by the Universities of Aberdeen, Manchester, Cambridge and East Anglia in the United Kingdom say that eating up to 100 grams of chocolate a day is linked to lowered heart disease and stroke risk. The researchers say there also doesn't seem to be evidence for cutting out chocolate to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study was published in the BMJ Journal Heart.

How researchers came to that conclusion is through a study of more than 20,000 adults that tracks the impact of diet on the long-term health of men and women in England. They also drew from studies looking at links between chocolate and cardiovascular disease of more than 150,000 people.

Phyo Myint, a professor at the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine & Dentistry, says it's clear from the study that "higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events."

Myint says the study shows that milk chocolate, which is considered less healthy than dark chocolate, was the type of chocolate eaten by the residents, but he says dark chocolate may have similar benefits.

"This may indicate that not only flavonoids, but also other compounds, possibly related to milk constituents, such as calcium and fatty acids, may provide an explanation for the observed association," Myint says.

Researchers point out that there doesn't seem to be any evidence that "moderate consumption" of chocolate increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the study, researchers, say the participants, which included more than 9,000 men and 11,000 women, were monitored for about 12 years on average. The study shows that just over 3,000 experienced an "episode of fatal or non-fatal coronary heart disease or strokes."

Some 20 percent of participants said they didn't eat any chocolate, but among the others, researchers say the daily consumption average was seven grams, with some eating up to 100 grams.

Chocolate health benefitsHigher levels of consumption were associated with younger age and lower weight (BMI), waist: hip ratio, systolic blood pressure, inflammatory proteins, diabetes and more regular physical activity -- all of which add up to a favorable cardiovascular disease risk profile, Myint says.

Researchers also pointed out that eating more chocolate was associated with higher energy intake and a diet containing more fat and carbs and less protein and alcohol.

The calculations showed that compared with those who ate no chocolate, higher intake was linked to an 11 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25 percent lower risk of associated death, Myint says. It was also associated with a 9 percent lower risk of hospital admission or death as a result of coronary heart disease, after taking account of dietary factors, he says.

Researchers say that among the 16,000 whose inflammatory protein levels were measured, those eating the most chocolate seemed to have an 18 percent lower rink than those who ate the least.

Myint says the highest chocolate intake was similarly associated with a 23 percent lower risk of stroke, even after taking account of other potential risk factors.

Of nine relevant studies included in the review, five studies each assessed coronary heart disease and stroke outcome, and they found a significantly lower risk of both conditions associated with regular chocolate consumption, Myint says.

It was linked to a 25 percent lower risk of any episode of cardiovascular disease and a 45 percent lower risk of associated death, he says.

Because this study is based on observation, Myint says there's "no definitive conclusions about the cause and affect" that can be drawn. He also says the survey is based on a biased recall and could underestimate items eaten.

Reverse causation -- those with a higher cardiovascular disease risk profile eating less chocolate and foods containing it than those who are healthier, may also help to explain the results, Myint says.

So, enjoy that scrumptious, delicious bite of chocolate! Me, I go for the dark stuff. What about you?

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