A new study by Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden adds to the evidence that moderate chocolate consumption might lower stroke risk – this time, among middle-aged and older men.
Previous studies have found links between eating moderate amounts of cocoa-rich chocolate and protection against cardiovascular diseases, but this study is the first to search specifically for links between chocolate and the risk of developing stroke. 37,103 Swedish men aged between 49 and 75 filled in food questionnaires, they were asked about how often they ate chocolate over a decade. Hospital records were used to correlate strokes with chocolate intake.
Larsson writes in the latest edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology: “High chocolate consumption was associated with a lower risk of stroke.”
Men who ate the most chocolate – typically the equivalent of one-third of a cup of chocolate chips – had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than men who avoided chocolate.
“The beneficial effect of chocolate consumption on stroke may be related to the flavonoids in chocolate,” wrote Susanna Larsson, “through several biological mechanisms, including antioxidant, anti-platelet, and anti-inflammatory effects.”
The study is hardly the first to link chocolate to cardiovascular benefits, with several previous ones suggesting that chocolate fans have lower rates of certain risks for heart disease and stroke, like high blood pressure.
Larsson found similar results for women in a previous study.
Of the 37,000 men 1,995 men suffered a first-time stroke.
Among men in the top 25 percent for chocolate intake, the stroke rate was 73 per 100,000 men per year. That compared with a rate of 85 per 100,000 among men who ate the least chocolate, report the researchers.
Men who ate the most chocolate, a weekly average of 63 grams, had a 17% lower risk of stroke compared with men who ate none. It was not dependent on the types of strokes.
Other factors, such as the men’s weight and other diet habits, whether they smoked and whether they had high blood pressure were factored in but even with those factors considered, men who ate the most chocolate had a 17 percent lower stroke risk.
Although other researchers note that none of the studies to date have proved that chocolate is the reason for the lower stroke risk I am of the opinion that this is the case.
To corroborate her findings Larsson svenska nyheter conducted a meta-analysis of five other studies, containing a total of 4,260 cases of stroke across Europe and the United States. The risk of stroke for individuals in the highest category of chocolate consumption was 19% lower compared with non-chocolate eaters. She found the an increase in chocolate consumption of 50g per week, reduced the risk of stroke by about 14%.
The beneficial effects of chocolate have been attributed to its flavonoids. In particular, there are types known as epicatechins, catechins (also found in tea) and procyanidins (also found in foods such as grapes, wine, blackberries, apples, kale, broccoli and nuts).
Flavonoids are compounds that act as antioxidants and may have positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol and blood vessel function, according to studies.
The Cocoa flavonoids can prevent blood clotting, strokes, and helping to dilate the blood vessels to accommodate blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Flavonoids also decrease concentrations of bad cholesterol in the blood.
The type of chocolate quality did not make any difference. It has been thought for some time that dark chocolate was the good chocolate to eat. But Larsson said: “Interestingly, dark chocolate has previously been associated with heart health benefits, but about 90% of the chocolate intake in Sweden, including what was consumed during our study, is milk chocolate.”