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Friday, April 2, 2010

Dark chocolate benefits

A study by Dr. Brian Buijsee of the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany, has been published in the European Heart Journal, March 31, 2010. It claims to demonstrate that chocolate consumption lowers cardiovascular risk. The study examined data apparently collected for the purpose of understanding cancer risk, and the investigators analyzed the relationship of chocolate consumption and cardiovascular risk. (Such "secondary analysis" studies analyze things the study was not originally designed to address, and interpreting them is often problematic.) The study shows that those in the highest quartile of chocolate consumption had lower blood pressures and lower stroke and heart attack risk. I loved the headlines this study generated, almost to the extent that I don't want to read it because I don't want anything destroy my hope that chocolate is really, really good for you, and observational studies always have flaws. OK, I said "almost".

Sadly, even from the news reports, I have realized already that this study cannot be used to justify what I would consider a satisfying amount of chocolate consumption, per day, such as 4 oz of the dark chocolate bar sitting in my drawer right now. According to Heartwire, "those who ate the most chocolate--around 7.5 g per day--had a 39% lower risk of MI and stroke than individuals who ate almost no chocolate (1.7 g per day)" Now 7.5 g per day is about 1/4 oz. of chocolate. This means the above-mentioned 8 oz. bar, 250 grams or so, would have to last me a month or more if I were to fit into the HIGHEST consumption category examined. Trust me, this is NOT happening!! (Maybe the investigators couldn't get institutional review board to approve studies of earthlings so they went to other planet to recruit?)

Message for the study participants: Do you know what you're missing? You're pretty close to Belgium, so try out their best export!!) The folks eating the least chocolate in the study had only an ounce or two of chocolate per month. This strikes me as very sad.....

So that you, Kind Reader, can properly evaluate conflicts of interest, let me hasten to add that my sister is a sales executive in a chocolate company that uses a Belgian chocolate product. May I also add, however, that my own proclivity to consume the stuff well predated this relationship!

The author of the study is quoted by news reports as saying that "...chocolate contains so many calories and sugar, and obesity is already an epidemic. We have to be careful," but that if people wanted to treat themselves they should eat a small amount of dark chocolate.

According to Medscape (quoting Heartwire), another expert has called for a randomized trial to see if "flavanol-rich chocolate" lowers blood pressure. One study I believe they will have no trouble recruiting for...count me in!

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