(NaturalNews) Researchers from Johns Hopkins University believe they have discovered a biochemical pathway by which a chemical naturally found in dark chocolate can help protect the body from strokes.
Previous research has shown that a flavanol known as epicatechin appears to protect the body against cardiovascular disease and stroke. In the current study, researchers induced strokes in mice and then dosed them with epicatechin to observe how the chemical acted in their bodies.
"We gave different doses of epicatechin in mice 90 minutes before a stroke and found that it reduced infarct [stroke damage] size," lead researcher Sylvain Dore said. "When we gave epicatechin after a stroke, it had a protective effect up to 3.5 hours later, but not after six hours."
The researchers found that epicatechin activated two chemical pathways known to protect brain cells from damage, the Nrf2 pathway and the heme oxygenase pathway. When the researchers later induced stroke in mice genetically modified to lack both pathways, epicatechin had no protective effect.
The researchers suggested that epicatechin may one day form the basis for a drug to protect the brain from damage in those who have suffered strokes. The three-hour duration of the protective benefit is particularly encouraging, as modern pharmaceuticals are protective for a much shorter period. But Dore warned that it will be years, if ever, before such a treatment can be developed.
In the meantime, researchers caution consumers against gorging on chocolate as a way to protect their hearts, as the high sugar content can produce other health problems.
"Chocolate comes with a lot of calories," said flavanol researcher and doctoral candidate Martin Lajous of Harvard University. "I would talk about small amounts of dark chocolate rather than chocolate in general."
"I prefer to focus on cocoa," Dore said. "Cocoa is not like chocolate, which is high in saturated fat and calories. Cocoa can be part of a healthy diet, combined with fruits and vegetables."