Semi-sweet news for chocolate lovers
August 29th, 2011
04:10 AM ET

Semi-sweet news for chocolate lovers

Editor's note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: The Last Heart Attack at 8p and 11p ET on Saturday, September 3rd.

If only everything that looked good, felt good, or tasted good was good for us too. It comes as more welcome news for chocolate lovers, then, that yet another study has linked chocolate consumption with improved heart health. Maybe.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge analyzed the results of seven existing studies and concluded that high levels of chocolate consumption might be associated with a notable reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. Five of the seven studies reported a beneficial link between higher levels of chocolate consumptions and the risk of cardiovascular events. They found that “the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke, compared with the lowest levels [of consumption].”

The studies, notably, did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate and included consumption of different types of chocolate (bars, shakes, etc.)

"The observations represent associations, not cause and effect," says Alice Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist at Tufts University's Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. "The results of the evidence review provide support for conducting controlled intervention trials using well-defined preparations of chocolate before we can determine the actual effect of chocolate on heart disease risk."

By the year 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that nearly 23.6 million people will die from heart disease. In CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary “The Last Heart Attack,” Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. asserts that simply modifying one’s diet can make a person heart attack-proof in just one month. Should chocolate then be prescribed as part of this diet, which advocates the consumption of a plant-based food plan?

A number of recent studies have shown that eating chocolate has a positive impact on human health, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, namely reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity.

But here’s the caveat. Chocolate, as we all know, is full of calories, and eating too much of it could lead to weight gain, diabetes, or even heart disease – the very ailment some believe chocolate is working to prevent in the first place.

The authors of the study stress that further testing is needed to determine whether chocolate actually causes this reduction in heart problems, or if the health benefits are instead better explained by some other unmeasured factor.

"Were there compounds in cocoa that decrease heart risk," says Lichtenstein, "it will be important to identify them, isolate them, and determine the optimal dose and best route to administer them."

One thing is clear. Chocolate does far more for our bodies than activate our taste buds. Given its apparent health benefits, some resources might now be shifted to exploring the fat and sugar contents of chocolate, and how we might go about lowering them. This new “superfood” would be quite sweet indeed.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.