A sweet tooth isn't necessarily bad for your health -- at least not when it comes to chocolate, hints a new study. Researchers studying more than 33,000 Swedish women found that the more chocolate women said they ate, the lower their risk of stroke.
The results add to a growing body of evidence linking cocoa consumption to heart health, but they aren't a free pass to gorge on chocolate.
"Given the observational design of the study, findings from this study cannot prove that it's chocolate that lowers the risk of stroke," Dr Susanna Larsson from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said.
While she believes chocolate has health benefits, she also warned that eating too much could be counterproductive.
"Chocolate should be consumed in moderation, as it is high in calories, fat, and sugar," she said. "As dark chocolate contains more cocoa and less sugar than milk chocolate, consumption of dark chocolate would be more beneficial."
Dr Larsson and her colleagues, whose findings appeared today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, studied data from a mammography study that included self-reports on how much chocolate women ate in 1997.
Flavonoids may be responsible
The women ranged in age from 49 to 83 years. Over the next decade, there were 1,549 strokes, and the more chocolate women ate, the lower their risk.
Among those with the highest weekly chocolate intake – more than 45 grams – there were 2.5 strokes per 1,000 women per year. That figure was 7.8 per 1,000 among women who ate the least (less than 8.9 grams per week).
Researchers speculate that flavonoids, in particular so-called flavanols, may be responsible for chocolate's apparent effects on health.
According to Dr Larsson, flavonoids have been shown to cut high blood pressure, improve endothelial and platelet function and to ameliorate insulin resistance. They can also suppress oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Whether that theoretical benefit translates into real-life benefits remains to be proven by more rigorous studies, however.
(Reuters Health, Frederik Joelving, October 2011)
Dark chocolate good for your heart