(NaturalNews) Much has been said about the health benefits of chocolate, and a new study set to take place over the next four years could help clarify whether or not all the hype surrounding this sweet treat is really substantiated. Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), as well as Mars Inc., maker of Snickers and M&M's, the study will evaluate the effects of high-dose cocoa flavanols in human test subjects to see if chocolate really can prevent heart attacks and strokes as claimed.
Slated to include 18,000 men and women from both Seattle and Boston, the study will compare the health outcomes of some participants taking a daily dose of 750 milligrams of cocoa flavanols -- this is the equivalent of what is found in about five bars of dark chocolate -- to others taking a placebo. Rather than consume actual chocolate bars, participants will instead take a daily pill containing a concentrated dose of the key nutrients.
According to an Associated Press (AP) announcement, the unique study not only is larger than previous ones involving chocolate, the findings of which it aims to affirm, but is also being better constructed. By looking at cocoa flavanols specifically rather than chocolate bars as a whole, researchers involved with the project hope to gain a better understanding of how chocolate can help people maintain healthy blood pressure, avoid heart disease and balance cholesterol levels.
"The study will be the first large test of cocoa flavanols, which in previous smaller studies improved blood pressure, cholesterol, the body's use of insulin, artery health and other heart-related factors," writes Marilynn Marchione for the AP.
Processed chocolate isn't healthy, say authors
The problem with much of the reporting on chocolate's health benefits is that it fails to identify actual cocoa, rather than processed chocolate, as the substance of merit. It is the antioxidant compounds found naturally in cocoa, as well as other beneficial substances, that provide actual health benefits -- a Snickers bar, on the other hand, simply won't cut it.
"You're not going to get these protective flavanols in most of the candy on the market," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who will lead the new study. "Cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by the processing."
The randomized, double-blind study, though supported in part by candy companies, is being structured to look specifically at these cocoa flavanols rather than chocolate products in general. The honest goal of the project, it seems, is to truly evaluate the health benefits of cocoa specifically, as clarified by Dr. Manson, for the purpose of promoting public health.
"This is not really intended to be a study of chocolate candy," she adds, as quoted by CBS Boston. "This is a study of the bio-active nutrients within the cocoa bean."
Research team will also look at multivitamins for preventing cancer
The same group of scientists is planning to evaluate the health benefits of multivitamins as part of the study, specifically in regard to preventing cancer. Like the cocoa flavanols component, a large cross-section of the population will be evaluated to see whether or not multivitamins are an effective way to decrease cancer risk naturally.
"Cocoa flavanols and multivitamins are two of the most promising and exciting nutritional interventions available, and this new randomized trial is the natural next step in advancing our understanding of their potential benefits," says Dr. Manson.