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For men too, chocolate consumption reduces stroke risk

August 29, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times | For the Booster Shots blog
  • Men who eat the most chocolate are less likely to suffer strokes, says a new study. See? It works for Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer.
Men who eat the most chocolate are less likely to suffer strokes, says a new… (Michael Loccisano / Getty…)

Ladies, don't bogart that chocolate! Pass it on to the men.

A new study finds that compared with men who reported eating little-to-no chocolate on a regular basis, those who had the highest weekly consumption of chocolate — about 63 grams per week, or just a little more than 2 ounces — reduced their likelihood of suffering a stroke by 17%.

The latest findings, published in the journal Neurology, are drawn from a population of 37,103 Swedish men, whose age ranged from 45 to 79 at the start of an average follow-up period of about 10 years. The study fills out a picture of chocolate consumption, especially of dark chocolate, that has firmly demonstrated cardiovascular benefits for women. For men, however, research on chocolate's health benefits had been less consistent in its findings.

The Neurology study, released Wednesday, also cites the results of a meta-analysis (a study that pieces together the findings of similar but independent studies) of chocolate consumption and stroke risk in both men and women. That study found that for men and women combined, those who ate the most chocolate drove down their stroke risk by about 19%.

The precise mechanism by which chocolate works such charms is not known. Dark chocolate, especially, is a rich source of flavenoids, the kind of plant-based polyphenols one finds in fruits, vegetables, legumes and wine. These appear to tamp down inflammation throughout the body. But they also reduce the aggregation of platelets, the building blocks of blood clots that, in most strokes and heart attacks, reduce or cut off blood flow to the brain or heart. Regular chocolate consumption has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve the health and efficiency of blood vessels. And it appears to improve the cholesterol profiles of those who eat it regularly.

A food with such powers (it is also considered an aphrodesiac) should be eaten by everyone, right?

Well, not exactly. In addition to being a rich source of flavenoids, chocolate is a rich source of fat and calories. And, to belabor the obvious, taking in too much will cause weight gain, which, in turn, can raise stroke and heart attack risk. Experts suggest that, as with wine — another highly palatable and potent source of flavenoids — research like this should offer reassurance to those who already eat chocolate regularly and aren't overweight or obese. But for those looking to reduce stroke risk, eating more fruits, vegetables and legumes is a lower-calorie way to get the same benefits.

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