Monday, June 12, 2017

Yet Another Chocolate Study

Isn’t it great to find out that something you love is also good for you!  That’s probably why so many scientists study the health effects of chocolate.  It guarantees publicity.  Look at a few of the many studies that made the news.

I found this information on WebMD.  It cites a study from University of Cologne, Germany published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in August 2003.  They found that dark chocolate lowers high blood pressure.

In the same month Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome in another study praised dark chocolate as being “a potent antioxidant” with potential benefits against heart disease and other ailments associated with free radicals in the body.  Both recommended eating chocolate only in moderation.

In 2012 the headline on the Women’s Health Magazine website read:  “Chocolate isn't junk food anymore! Here, the health perks of your new favorite superfood.”  They went to describe healthy chocolate, that is dark with 70% cacao, as a “disease-killing bullet...packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine.” 

Here are the benefits they listed and the source:
  • Heart healthy – a 9-year Swedish study
  • Weight loss – the University of Copenhagen
  • Happier Babies (if enjoyed during pregnancy) – a Finnish study
  • Diabetes Prevention – University of L'Aquila in Italy
  • Reduced Stress – from Swiss scientists
  • Sun Protection – from London researchers
  • Higher Intelligence – from the University of Nottingham
  • Cough Relief – National Heart and Lung Institute
  • Diarrhea Relief – the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute
A couple of years ago the Washington Post told usa surprising number of studies have found that dark chocolate can reduce the risk of death from a heart attack, decrease blood pressure and help those with chronic fatigue syndrome.”  Unlike the previous studies, this one found no difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate and their idea of moderation was more precisely defined.  From 15 to 100 grams were effective with the more the better.  Note that 100 grams is about 500 calories, a significant portion of the recommended total daily calorie consumption.

Then there was the fraudulent study purporting to link eating chocolate to weight loss.  The science journalist confessed later that he purposely offered this study for publications to show how lax some of the standards were and that it got far more attention than he ever expected.  (Oops, that’s the second benefit listed by the Women’s Health Magazine.)

The latest one is from Denmark last month  (Interesting how all these chocolate studies seem to happen in Europe.)  This one found that people who “regularly eat chocolate reduce their risk of heart rhythm disorders.”  Knowing that previous studies showed the benefits of dark chocolate, they followed more than 55,000 people between the ages of 50 and 64 for 13.5 years looking for beneficial effects on atrial fibrillation.

“The researchers cautioned that the results are not definitive. The chocolate eaters in the study were naturally healthier and were highly educated, which are factors associated with good health. The study also failed to take account of other risk factors for atrial fibrillation, like kidney disease or sleep apnea.”  Not much there, but since it had to do with chocolate, it made the news.

I saw the last story on one of those health-news fillers on local TV and was unfamiliar with the website where I found it, so I looked at some of the links to other stories to see how much I should trust it.  That was an eye-opener.  They included:  How to dissolve 50 years of artery plaque; the natural remedy of the century; one trick to burn two pounds as you sleep; and the blood pressure secret revealed in the Bible.  It’s obviously not a place for critical thinkers to hang out.

In summary, the health benefits of chocolate seems to be a good subject for those who are more interested in believing things than in real science.  Personally, I intend to continue to enjoy chocolate – in moderation – and fortunately, I’m a big fan of dark chocolate.  But I’m not doing it for the magical health benefits –  that what the red wine is for!

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