Ask the Nurse: CHOCOLATE, NATURE'S PANACEA
Chocolate: Panacea for Happiness and Health
by Helen Borel, RN,PhD
Dark Chocolate, replete with bioflavonoids, contributes to improved cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) health, according to Dr. Mary Engler of the University of California at San Francisco, School of Nursing.
Her salubrious conclusion refers to the results of a study1 she and her co-investigators conducted on some lucky volunteers who got to eat chocolate during the full time period of their experiment.
Two groups of chocolate lovers were instructed to eat one bar of dark chocolate (amounting to 1.6 oz.) q.d. (daily) for 14 days. One group was given dark chocolate bars - usually highest in cocoa content, compared with milk chocolate for example - that contained its natural high level of flavonoids, the targeted active ingredient known as epicatechin.
The second group was fed what appeared to be the same dark chocolate of the same weight and at the same daily dosage for two weeks as well. Except that, unbeknownst to the subjects in either group, the flavonoids from the dark chocolate bars eaten by the group 2 subjects were removed.
The object of the study by Dr. Engler and her colleagues was to compare, by various cardiovascular tests, how the flavonoid and nonflavonoid chocolate-eating subjects fared.
Blood Vessel Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Bioflavonoids are known to forestall inflammation within blood vessel walls triggered by immune system reactions. Concomitantly, they also prevent atherosclerotic (fatty, hardening) conditions from forming by controlling the deposition of cholesterol intravascularly as well.
Thus flavonoids, and therefore dark chocolate, decrease coagulatory (clotting) responses thereby minimizing thrombus (clot) formation. In other words, somewhat like aspirin, dark chocolate thins the blood, preventing the thickening that produces thrombi.
Dangers of Atherosclerotic Deposits
This positive flavonoid action is crucial because thrombi can loosen and travel via the circulatory system to the heart, causing a heart attack; to the brain, causing a stroke; and to the peripheral vessels in the legs causing a venous (of the veins) thrombus which can loosen and travel to the lungs. All three of these potential conditions can be fatal.
Bearing in mind that vessels at risk of atherosclerosis tend toward more rigidity, with greater constriction of the lumen (the hollow path within a blood vessel), this will lead to restricted blood flow and deprivation to vital bodily organs of needed nutrients and oxygen. And such vascular pathology will promote hypertension (high blood pressure) - a silent inducer of CVAs (cerebrovascular accidents = strokes), MIs(myocardial infarctions = heart attacks), and kidney disease.
Subjects Eating Flavonoid-Rich Dark Chocolate had Healthier Blood Vessels...
Thus, normally dilating arteries permit increased blood flow and reduced probability of the dire conditions just mentioned. And this study demonstrated a healthier vascular dilatation-constriction process in the flavonoid subject group.
...and Other Studies Report Antihypertensive and Anticancer Effects of Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate has also been shown, in other studies, to lower blood pressure and to have some anticancer protective properties.
So, dosing yourself with some squares of dark chocolate a day may be one of the most enjoyable medical regimens people can follow as prophylaxis against two of the most widespread life-threatening conditions in the world - heart disease and cancer.
1. Engler, RN,PhD, Mary B.: J. Amer. Coll. Nutrition, Vol. 23, (June) 2004, pp. 197-204.
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