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Chocolate May Protect Against Stroke

Chocolate May Protect Against Stroke: Main Image
Being a chocolate eater was associated with a 17% decrease in total stroke risk

It's not very often that nutrition experts can recommend indulging regularly in a decadent food, but this is one of those times: Findings from a study published in Neurology suggest that regularly eating a small amount of chocolate might reduce stroke risk in men.

The study included more than 37,000 healthy men in Sweden, ages 45 to 79 years old, who answered a questionnaire about health, diet, and lifestyle habits and were then monitored for stroke for just over ten years.

Chocolate makes the difference in stroke risk

The results of the study showed the following:

  • Men who ate the most chocolate, about 2 ounces (62.9 grams) per week on average, were less likely to have a stroke during the study than men who ate no chocolate.
  • Being a chocolate eater was associated with a 17% decrease in total stroke risk after adjustments for other risks for stroke such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and being older.
  • Chocolate eating appeared to reduce the risk of both ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke by approximately the same amount. Ischemic stroke is more common and involves loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, while hemorrhagic stroke is less common and involves bleeding from small vessels in an area of the brain.
  • An analysis of the combined data from this study and four similar studies (known as a meta-analysis) found that the stroke risk reduction associated with eating about 2 ounces of chocolate per week was 14 to 19%. A similar effect was seen in women in the other four studies.

"These findings suggest that moderate chocolate consumption may lower the risk of stroke," the study's authors said. They speculate that the benefits seen in chocolate eaters may be related to chocolate's high levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as catechin and epicatechin. Chocolate is also rich in magnesium, a mineral that might contribute to stroke prevention.

Cut your stroke risk

For true choco-holics, 2 ounces of chocolate per week is a modest amount, but since there is no evidence to show whether eating more chocolate is helpful or harmful, this seems like a reasonable target for people wanting to eat chocolate for health. Here are some other things you can do to reduce your stroke risk:

  • Don't smoke. If you do smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do to lower your stroke risk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases stroke risk, especially when the extra fat is carried in the abdomen (so don't overdo the chocolate, if you need to lose weight).
  • Stay active. Exercise protects against all kinds of cardiovascular problems, including stroke.
  • Keep blood pressure controlled. Ideally, this is achieved with a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber whole grains, along with daily physical activity.

(Neurology 2012;79:1223-9)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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