I don’t normally blog about vascular disease and diet, but I digress every once in awhile, as with a family history chock full of heart disease, these papers always catch my eye. This morning I reviewed three studies that all continue to show the crazy health benefits of dark chocolate.
I’ve blogged before that dark chocolate (but not milk chocolate) has shown to be as good as pharma cholesterol lowering pills in protecting your heart. The magic ingredient is called polyphenol and is also found in blueberries (also as good as those nasty statin cholesterol pills) and other vegetables. This compound can help protect nerve cells (neurons) and has an anti-cancer effect. While there are likely have many ways in which it works, polyphenol has been shown to impact a cellular switch (ERK/MAP pathway) that sometimes gets stuck in the “on” or “off” position which can lead to problems in the cell.
The trio of a recent studies starts with one that looked at patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD), a disease where the blood vessels in the legs get gunked up and less blood flow goes to the muscles, causing painful leg cramps with walking. Dark (but not milk) chocolate improved the ability of these patients to walk on their own. The second study hits a bit closer to home as it looked at the impacts of dark chocolate on young and healthy people (OK maybe I qualify as one of the two). Vascular function which included the stiffness of the artery walls (stiff arteries lead to hard to treat high blood pressure later in life) improved for those people taking a 1/3 of an ounce of 75% chocolate. The third study combined dark chocolate with polyphenol rich foods like blue berries and found that this type of diet helped improve dilation of the vessel wall cells (endothelial cells) in patients with high blood pressure. This is how blood pressure medicines work-by dilating blood vessels and thus lowering blood pressure.
The upshot? Dark chocolate continues to show health benefits as more and more research is performed. In some studies, the effects are as good as some pharma drugs. However, since there is no patent to be had for chocolate, you’ll never see slick direct to consumer TV ads for it’s health benefits. In fact, if you saw that, like Walnuts, the FDA would declare it a drug! So while the magic cocoa bean continues to thwart the big business models of medicine, go get yourself a 70% or greater chocolate bar and break off a square each day and work with your doctor to ditch the pharma creations!