If the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and chocolate-maker Mars have anything to do with it, Willy Wonka may be leaving Charlie more than the famous Everlasting Gobstopper. The government research group and maker of M&Ms and Snickers have teamed in the largest study ever to find out more about health benefits of cocoa flavanols, the main nutrients in dark chocolate. Earlier research on a smaller scale has shown that these ingredients lower the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Daniel Clair, a urologist at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, points out that the cocoa bean is rich in plant nutrients.
“Flavonoids [including cocoa flavanols] help protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair damage. They can be found in a variety of foods, such as fruits and vegetables. When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this ‘antioxidant’ power, [which] can cause low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, to form plaque on the artery walls.”
Cocoa and chocolate—especially dark chocolate—are known to lower blood pressure, control the body’s use of insulin, improve artery health and blood flow to the brain, and enhance the ability of blood platelets to clot when needed. For the study, 18,000 men and women will get either placebo pills or two coated, tasteless but supercharged versions of the chocolatier’s cocoa extract capsules a day for four years.
It won’t be never-ending Halloween for these folks, though: the chocolate they consume will be minus its added sugar and fats and much, much stronger than anything now on the market. Neither the participants nor the study leaders will know who is taking what until study results are analyzed.
“People eat chocolate because they enjoy it,” not because they think it’s good for them, Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Associated Press. Manson is leading the study with her associate Howard Sesso at Brigham and colleagues at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. They’re also looking into the effectiveness of multivitamins.
Who knows? Maybe one day something like that Dove bar will offer us a real-life golden ticket.