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article imageCould a 'chocolate pill' curb heart disease and stroke?

By Kathleen Blanchard     Mar 17, 2014 in Health
Just about everyone, especially chocolate lovers, has read that cocoa has health benefits for the heart. Now researchers plan to find out if a chocolate pill that contains cocoa flavonoids could help prevent heart disease and stroke.
The large scale study is also geared to find out if taking multivitamins could help prevent cancer.
The impetus comes from past studies showing cocoa can aid weight loss, lower blood pressure, decrease insulin resistance and possibly even promote weight loss.
The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc. that makes a variety of chocolate bars, including dark chocolate varieties would mean the equivalent of flavanols that we couldn’t get from just eating chocolate.
The specific compounds in cocoa that are thought to be beneficial to the heart are catechins and procyanidins.
Mars, Inc. has found a way to extract the beneficial flavanols from cocoa that they have patented.
The plan is to recruit 18,000 men and women nationwide who are already enrolled in studies. The chocolate, or cocoa pills will be compared to placebo. Neither the researchers or the study participants will know whether they are getting flavonoids from cocoa or a dummy pill.
Why do we need a cocoa pill?
According to Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who will head the study along with Howard Sesso at Brigham and a team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, "In smaller studies, cocoa flavanols have been linked to improvements in intermediate risk factors for heart disease, such as reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improvements in the body's sensitivity to insulin, and improved ability of blood vessels to dilate.” Studies have also shown cocoa powder can turn 'bad' LDL cholesterol into less dangerous heart attack promoting molecules.
But Manson points out you can’t get enough of the beneficial compounds in cocoa from a candy bar.
Many people eat raw cocoa for the health benefits — without the added sugar and fat. But even consuming raw cocoa won’t deliver the amount of flavanols and heart health benefits suggested by smaller studies.
Manson warns it’s important to hold back on eating more chocolate or taking cocoa supplements. “More is not necessarily better,” and research has shown surprising harm from some nutrients that once looked promising, the researcher said.
Mars, Inc. says the investigation is the largest to date to test the impact of flavanol nutrition on heart health.
We will have to wait at least five years to find out if chocolate in a pill could help prevent heart attack and stroke. Until then, continue to enjoy cocoa in moderation. Too much of anything, including dark chocolate, could end up not being not so sweet for health.
More about Mars Inc, cocoa study, chocolate pill, Brigham
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