Eating Dark Chocolate May Help Prevent Heart Problems

A Reuters Health article of August 27, 2003 reports on research that shows that eating dark chocolate, but not milk chocolate, raises plasma antioxidant levels, an effect that could help protect against heart disease. The new study from the University of Glasgow, showed eating chocolate increases blood antioxidants but consuming milk at the same time cancels the health benefits.

What are antioxidants? They are compounds that combine with free radicals in the body and neutralize their damaging effects. What are free radicals? These are highly reactive molecules that are produced through normal body processes, as well as external stimuli such as air pollution and tobacco smoke. These free radicals react with billions of cells in the body and may lead to the development of a number of chronic diseases including cancer, cataracts and heart disease. There are many studies in the medical journals demonstrating the positive effects of antioxidants on large populations to decrease the frequency of new cancers as well as decrease the recurrence rates in people who already have cancer. Additionally, antioxidants have been shown to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system by decreasing the heart attack rate.

Volunteers in the University of Glasgow study were given either plain (dark) chocolate or milk chocolate. Some were also given milk in the double-blind experiment. Then their antioxidant levels were tested. Blood analysis one-hour after dark chocolate was eaten revealed a significant rise in antioxidant levels. "Those volunteers who had dark chocolate had a 20 percent increase in antioxidants in their plasma," said Alan Crozier, one of the research team. "But those who had milk chocolate, or milk with their dark chocolate, showed no increase in epicatechin plasma levels."