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Reuters Medical News - for the Professional
Evidence for Cardiovascular Benefits of Chocolate Continues to Grow

By Ian Mason

AMSTERDAM, Aug 30 (Reuters Health) - The latest research supporting the potential cardiovascular health benefits of chocolate were presented here this week during a symposium at the 22nd congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

Earlier this year (February 21st), Reuters Health reported in vitro and human data showing that flavonoids found in cocoa may help protect against cardiovascular disease, from studies presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

Dr. Carl Keen, of the University of California, Davis, told symposium attendees that the story had now moved forward, with new research showing significant increases in plasma prostacyclin levels and a decrease in leukotriene levels in human volunteers who consumed 37 g/d of chocolate.

"Prostacyclin is manufactured by the vascular endothelium and promotes vasodilatation, inhibits platelet clumping, the formation of blood clots, and the entry of LDL-cholesterol into the arterial wall. Conversely, leukotrienes are vasoconstrictive, causing a slow and persistent contraction in the smooth muscle of the blood vessels, and can be platelet aggregatory," Dr. Keen explained. "A lowering of the leukotriene/prostacyclin ratio [as observed in the study] may have beneficial effects on platelets and possibly inflammation and vessel dilation."

"We are really excited about the prostacyclin research, which will be published in the next couple of months," he added.

Dr. Gerard Hornstra, of the University of Maastricht, acknowledged that there are concerns that other chocolate ingredients, such as fat, might increase cardiovascular risk. However, he believes that this unlikely because of the profile of fatty acids present in chocolate. "Chocolate is about 30% fat, mainly from cocoa butter, which contains about 60% saturated fatty acids (35% stearic acid and 25% palmitic acids) and about 40% unsaturated fatty acids — mainly oleic acid," he said.

Palmitic acid increases and oleic acid decreases plasma LDL-cholesterol with stearic acid having a negligible effect. "Based on these considerations, it can be expected that the contribution of chocolate consumption to cardiovascular risk — if any — is low," he said.

He did add that further research was needed, especially with respect to the postprandial effects of chocolate on plasma lipoprotein profiles and on platelet activation, coagulation and fibrinolysis.

Dr. Harold Schmitz, director of analytical and applied sciences at Mars Inc. (sponsors of the symposium), told Reuters Health that his company is currently holding exploratory talks with several pharmaceutical companies about isolating and developing some of the components of chocolate as cardiovascular pharmaceuticals.

ReutersCopyright © 2000 Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.


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