Eating chocolate may reduce the long term risk of stroke, research has shown.
Men who consumed moderate amounts of chocolate each week were less likely to suffer a stroke over a period of 10 years than those who ate none.
The difference was small, but significant. Study participants who ate the most chocolate, equivalent to about one third of a cup of chocolate chips, reduced their stroke risk by 17 per cent. A total of 37,103 Swedish men aged 49 to 75 took part in the study.
Their diets were assessed with food questionnaires, which asked how often they ate chocolate. The men's progress was then followed for 10 years, during which researchers recorded 1,995 cases of a first stroke.
Previous studies have shown that chocolate may help prevent diabetes, control blood pressure, and protect against heart disease. Healthy antioxidant plant chemicals called flavonoids are thought to explain the health benefits.
'Flavonoids appear to be protective against cardiovascular disease through antioxidant, anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties. It's also possible that flavonoids in chocolate may decrease blood concentrations of bad cholesterol and reduce blood pressure.
'Interestingly, dark chocolate has previously been associated with heart health benefits, but about 90 per cent of the chocolate intake in Sweden, including what was consumed in our study, is milk chocolate.'
The men who ate the largest quantities consumed a modest 63g of chocolate per week. This is about a third of a cup-full of chocolate chips, or just a little more than a Mars bar which weighs 58 grams.
Put into context, the 17 per cent risk reduction amounted to 12 fewer strokes per 10,000 participants over 10 years, or 100,000 "person years".
The research was followed up by a larger analysis of data from five studies in Europe and the US that included 4,260 stroke cases. This showed that people eating the most chocolate were 19 per cent less likely to have a stroke than those consuming the least.
For every increase in chocolate consumption of about 50 grams per week, stroke risk decreased by about 14 per cent.
In their paper, the scientists said further studies were needed before any recommendations could be given about chocolate consumption. They added: 'Because chocolate is high in sugar, saturated fat, and calories, it should be consumed in moderation.'
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