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Chocolate May Reduce Stroke Risk In Men

08/30/2012 07:47 EDT | Updated 10/30/2012 05:12 EDT
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Eating a moderate amount of European chocolate each week may help prevent stroke, a study of Swedish men suggests.

The study in Wednesday's issue of the journal Neurology suggested that men who ate one-third of a cup of chocolate chips had a lower risk of stroke than those who didn’t eat any of the sweet treat.

Those eating the highest amount of chocolate had a 17 per cent lower risk of stroke, or 12 fewer strokes per 100,000 person-years compared with those who ate no chocolate. Person-years is the total number of years that each man was under observation.

"These findings suggest that moderate chocolate consumption may lower the risk of stroke," Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and her co-authors concluded.

"Because chocolate is high in sugar, saturated fat and calories, it should be consumed in moderation."

The study included 37,103 men aged 49 to 75 who filled in questionnaires about how often they ate nearly 100 foods and drinks.

Over 10 years, 1,995 cases of stroke occurred but there was no difference in the association by type of stroke.

Compared with men who said they ate the least amount of chocolate, those who ate the most were younger on average and more likely to have a university education and to use Aspirin but were less likely to be current smokers and have a history of hypertension or the heart condition atrial fibrillation.

A review of similar studies that was part of the research also suggested a 19 per cent decrease in risk of stroke with chocolate consumption.

When the researchers considered history of hypertension in their analysis, the association between chocolate consumption and stroke remained the same, they said, noting those with a history of high blood pressure when the study began may have had normal levels because they were treated for it.

The flavonoids in chocolate could have blood pressure lowering-effects, based on short-term feeding trials. Ingredients in chocolate are also thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

In Sweden, about 90 per cent of the chocolate consumed is milk chocolate, Larrson said. Those sweets tend to be richer in cocoa solids than the most popular types of chocolate in North America.

The researchers estimated that chocolate contributed 4.9 per cent of antioxidants in participants' diets. Apples and pears were a richer source at 6.1 per cent as were oranges, 6.2 per cent.

One of the limitations of the study is that people self-reported their chocolate consumption and they were only asked about it when the research began and it’s possible some people changed their intake.

The researchers did not have information about the type of chocolate that people ate.

Last year, Larsson’s team reported that women who have two small bars of chocolate a week, about 66.5 grams, were about 20 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who abstained from eating it.

The study was funded about Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and the Swedish Research Council.

Here are 10 other health benefits of eating small amounts of your favourite chocolate:

  • It Reduces Stroke Risk
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    A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
  • It Boosts Heart Health
    Matija Puhek/500px
    Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk.
  • It Fills You Up
    Kohei Hara via Getty Images
    Because it's rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you'll eat less, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and HuffPost blogger told The Huffington Post. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on "11 other things first" he said. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and may even reduce cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
  • It May Fight Diabetes
    Julie Thompson
    A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes.
  • It Protects Your Skin
    Katerina Nanopoulou via Alamy
    Forget what you've heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some protection from UV damage from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
  • It Can Quiet Coughs
    Andrew Harding via Jupiter Images
    Can't stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a drug containing theobromine to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects.
  • It Boosts Your Mood
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    There's no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. Enjoying food is part of enjoying life, points out HuffPost Healthy Living's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald. Chocolate eaters also report feeling less stressed.
  • It Improves Blood Flow
    Lisa Capretto/OWN
    Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties that work in a similar way to aspirin, Dr. Fitzgerald writes, which can improve blood flow and circulation.
  • It Improves Vision
    Jamie Grill via Getty Images
    Because of chocolate's ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also increase blood flow to the retina, thereby giving vision a boost.
  • It May Make You Smarter
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    That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, perform better on counting tasks.