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Long term studies needed before dark chocolate health link established – study

By Oliver Nieburg , 02-Jan-2012
Last updated on 02-Jan-2012 at 14:47 GMT2012-01-02T14:47:58Z

The flavonoid epicatechin that is present in dark chocolate could be used to treat human diseases, but studies to date have been too small and longer controlled tests are required, according to a study.

The review ‘A chocolate a day keeps the doctor away’ authored by Christopher F Barnett and Teresa De Marco at the University of California and published in the Journal of Physiology assessed several studies that linked chocolate to health benefits.

Epicatechin studies

They concluded that the likeliest component in chocolate thought to mediate beneficial effects was the flavonoid epicatechin, which is found in high concentrations in dark chocolate.

“Recent studies suggest a possible clinical role for epicatechin in the treatment of human diseases, particularly those with skeletal muscle and cardiovascular pathologies,” said the report.

The authors pointed a recent study by Nogueira et al. also at the University of California which suggested that epicatechin could improve mitochondria in mice.

However, after reports based on Nogueira study circulated in the British national press that suggested eating chocolate could improve exercise capability the UK National Health Service (NHS) issued a warning that the reports were misleading.

Another study referred to was one conducted by Katz et al. at Yale University that linked chocolate intake to improved blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.

“One could hypothesize benefits from epicatechin treatment in conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, left sided heart failure and right heart failure secondary to pulmonaryarterial hypertension (PAH),” said Barnett and De Marco.

“At this time, dark chocolate is the best studied and most reliable method to deliver epicatechin to patients,“ they said.

Inconclusive

However, they warned that further tests were needed before chocolate was seen to give health benefits.

“Though tasty, long-term chocolate consumption as a treatment for disease is impractical for many reasons including its high calorie content and possible variable composition,” they said.

They added that studies to date were small, uncontrolled and evaluated only surrogate markers for cardiovascular disease.

“Well-designed, randomized, controlled, long term studies with clinically meaningful endpoints are needed to better clarify the potential benefits of dark chocolate and epicatechin to human health,” they concluded.

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