13 August 2010

Patients say 'no' to chocolate as medicine

It sounds like a great prescription, but a new study finds that many heart patients aren't all that sweet on using chocolate as medicine.


It sounds like a great prescription, but a new study finds that many heart patients aren't all that sweet on using chocolate as medicine.

Researchers in Australia discovered that patients more often preferred boring pills over antioxidant-rich chocolate to help control their blood pressure.

"Fifty grams of dark chocolate [roughly one average-sized candy bar] containing 70% of cocoa daily was less acceptable than a pill of tomato extract or placebo," said Karin Ried, co-author of a letter appearing in the BMJ.

So, because patients didn't stick with the regimen, "chocolate might not be practical to be recommended as long-term treatment for blood pressure," she added. "However, eating chocolate occasionally or regularly might have health-benefiting properties."

Antioxidants lower BP

Several trials have found that the antioxidants in dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure, including one that found that even 126 kilojoules of chocolate a day could help (a little more than a Hershey's Kiss).

"We know that flavonoids and polyphenols [both antioxidants] have been able to decrease blood pressure, so we've said that having a square of chocolate that's 70% cocoa [could be] part of a healthy diet," said Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

In the new trial, originally published in 2009, Ried and colleagues randomised 36 people to receive 50 milligrams of "commercially available" dark chocolate (70% cocoa and 750 milligrams of polyphenols), a tomato extract capsule (with 15 milligrams of the antioxidant lycopene), or a placebo daily for eight weeks.

The tomato extract contained levels of antioxidants "equivalent to four or five medium-size tomatoes," Ried said, while the placebo capsules "contained mainly soy oil."

Taste 'unpalatable'

Although the dark chocolate did have a more salutary effect on blood pressure than either the tomato extract or the placebo, many participants just didn't find this treat palatable.

About half of those in the chocolate group "found it hard" to eat this amount of chocolate every day, while 20% "considered it an unacceptable long-term treatment option."

Participants had no problem with a daily pill, however.

The findings seem counterintuitive to the growing waistlines seen around the world, but Ried thinks she may have a reason for the reactions.

"There is something about consuming a food item voluntarily or having to eat it on a daily basis over a period of 12 weeks," she said. "In particular, half a block of dark chocolate [50 grams] is not an insignificant amount. Participants in our trial reported strong taste and concerns about fat/sugar content as reasons for unacceptability of chocolate as a long-term treatment option."

Or there may be other reasons and other options.

"I can't eat just 126kj of chocolate, personally," said Marianne Grant, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at Texas A&M Health Science Centre Coastal Bend Health Education Centre, in Corpus Christi. "This does highlight the effect of antioxidants. Maybe if we could put them in other things, that might be better."

"This is another study that says dark chocolate is helpful in reducing blood pressure but really shouldn't be considered a medication," Steinbaum concluded. (August 2010)

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)

Dark chocolate beats stress
Chocolate better than kisses


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Hypertension expert

Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules