Chocolaholics Rejoice

by Brick O’Neil

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday March 8, 2007

Chocolate is found to have more and more health benefits the longer the medical community studies it. So far, Chocolate (dark chocolate, specifically) is shown to help victims of dementia and those with high blood pressure.

In today's day and age, medical researchers are still seeing cases of dementia, one of the unfortunate symptoms of advanced HIV disease and the normal ageing process, and are looking for ways to improve brain functioning. This raises the prospect of using flavanols in the treatment of dementia, marked by decreased blood flow in the brain, and in maintaining overall cardiovascular health. Those patients with dementia can increase blood flow to the brain by eating dark chocolates, researchers have said.

Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School said he found similar health benefits in the Cuna Indian tribe in Panama. They drink cocoa exclusively and do not have high blood pressure, and there are no reports of dementia among the native Cuna.

Some people get all the luck; however, when tribe members move to cities, their blood pressure rises.

Another study of six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure. Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate. Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.

What is it about dark chocolate? A major difference in both the Cuna Indian Tribe and the second study is the consumption of dark chocolates. Dark chocolates have plant phenols (Flavanols) -- cocoa phenols, to be exact. These compounds are known to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system of those with autoimmune diseases, such as HIV and those on immunosuppressants. In the case of the Cuna Indians, all they drank is their own chocolate; in cities they adopt the local diet.

Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure --if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, keep in mind: Dark chocolate -- not white; chocolate -- lowers high blood pressure. It's good to know there is something to look forward to as we age.

The cocoa typically sold in American markets is low in flavanols, which usually are removed because they impart a bitter taste. The findings do not mean people should indulge in chocolate. Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols; so if you're going to try this at home, remember: Darker is better.

First, flavonoid content varies markedly in chocolate products, so you might not be getting the healthy stuff with that candy bar. And second, along with the flavonoids, chocolate products also deliver lots and lots of calories. 100 grams of dark chocolate, for instance, yields approximately 500 calories, and eating this much chocolate daily without adjusting for the increase in calories will produce a weight gain of about 1 pound per week.

So any benefit you might gain by eating chocolate could be completely negated by making yourself obese. Furthermore -and importantly for those who adhere religiously to one or another mutually-exclusive dietary philosophies - these extra calories are packaged both as fat and as carbohydrates. This means that adding chocolate to your diet will violate both low fat and low carb dietary rules.

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On the web:

http://heartdisease.about.com/od/otherriskfactors/a/chocolate.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/02/19/brainy.chocolate.ap/index.html

http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20030827/dark-chocolate-is-healthy-chocolate

Brick is an Edgeboston.com Health & Fitness contributer.