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Why chocolate is good for the heart - The scientific evidence

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by: Dr. David Rostollan, ND
Tags: chocolate, heart health, health news

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(NewsTarget) Chocolate. It's bad for us, right? Not even close. The list of cardiovascular benefits from cocoa consumption is extensive and well-documented in the medical literature. In addition to this, a recent 2011 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has shed new light on a mechanism that helps to explain some of chocolate's heart-healthy effects [1]. Before we look at this new research, however, let's review some of chocolate's wide-ranging benefits, as shown in the published literature. The scientific basis for healthy chocolate consumption is more plentiful than most people realize.


-Inhibits the oxidation of LDL [2]

-Improves endothelial function [3]

-Inhibits platelet activation [4]

-Reduces LDL [2]

-Increases HDL [5]

-Increases insulin sensitivity [6]

-Reduces inflammatory proteins such as NF-kB [7]

-Lowers blood pressure [8]

These multiple benefits are likely mediated by the polyphenol content in cocoa, most specifically the flavan-3-ols (particularly the epicatechins and catechins) and their oligomeric procyanidins. Polyphenols like epicatechins, catechins, and procyanidins are also present in tea, fruits and vegetables, and red wine.

These polyphenols are undoubtedly beneficial to cardiovascular wellness. Particularly interesting is the effect of cocoa on the principle proteins in LDL and HDL particles. The new research mentioned at the beginning of this article has shown that polyphenols in cocoa increase LDL receptor activity, which decreases ApoB - the main protein in LDL particles. Also, the polyphenols apparently activate genes that increase levels of ApoA1, the main protein that makes up HDL2b particles (large HDL). This helps to explain why chocolate has been shown to lower LDL and increase HDL.

The ApoB/ApoA1 ratio has proven to be an extremely sensitive marker of cardiovascular risk - much better in its predictive power than standard lipid panels. In fact, in the massive INTERHEART trial, the ApoB/ApoA1 ratio was shown to be a more accurate predictor of cardiovascular risk than any other factor - even smoking [9].

The INTERHEART study examined the correlations between differing ratios of ApoB/ApoA1 with the odds of having a heart attack. Incredibly, as the ratio dips down to 0.40 and below, the risk of heart attack is nearly eliminated [10]. The predictive power is likely so strong because of the fact that ApoB and ApoA1 proteins fairly accurately represent the ratio of actual LDL particles to the number of functional HDL2 particles. As such, they are much more valuable measures of risk than traditionally calculated lipids.

By consuming chocolate on a regular basis, we can favorably impact the ApoB/ApoA1 ratio, while at the same time lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, inhibiting LDL oxidation, and much more. Since chocolate is delicious, it should be an easy food to incorporate into the diet with no need for supplemental extracts. Cocoa powders can be added to drinks or protein shakes, or a small amount of a dark chocolate bar may be enjoyed on a daily basis. The presence of sugar counteracts the beneficial effects [11], however, so low sugar chocolate is best - 75% dark or darker.


[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21226458

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17344491

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18614724

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10871557

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513403

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15755830

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14630700

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17609490

[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15364185

[10] http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6947/8/49/...

[11] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18614724

About the author

David Rostollan holds a Bachelor of Science in Natural Health and a doctorate in Naturopathy. He currently works as a professional health and nutrition consultant. His primary interests include heart disease prevention, chronic illness support, and diet and lifestyle coaching. He can be reached through www.reforminghealth.com

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