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Good news for chocoholics (2006-11-27)

Chocoholics, who couldn’t give up their chocolate long enough to participate in a medical study, actually showed that everyday amounts of chocolate may work even better than aspirin to keep blood from clotting.

A Johns Hopkins study enrolled 500 men and 700 women nationwide to measure aspirin’s ability to keep blood from forming dangerous clots. Just before the subjects were to begin dosing with aspirin, they were told they couldn’t eat chocolate during the 18-month study. 139 of them owned up to being chocoholics and admitted they couldn’t comply. Rather than exclude them from the study completely, team leader Diane Becker, M.P.H., Sc.D., decided to check their blood for the effects of chocolate in the same way they checked the blood of the aspirin takers.

Platelet samples from both the aspirin group and the chocolate group were tested in a mechanical blood vessel system, which measured the length of time it took for the platelets to clump. The platelets of the chocolate eaters actually took a little longer to clot than those of the aspirin takers. The chocolate eaters also fared better in a key urine test that measured waste products of platelet activity.

“What these chocolate ‘offenders’ taught us is that the chemical in cocoa beans has a biochemical effect similar to aspirin in reducing platelet clumping, which can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack,” Becker said.

While it’s been known for almost 20 years that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure and had other beneficial effects on blood flow, tests indicated impractically large amounts of chocolate would need to be consumed (several pounds a day). This study showed, on the other hand, that everyday “doses” of chocolate found in ordinary foods ranging from candy bars to cups of hot cocoa had a beneficial effect on blood clotting.

Study co-author Nauder Faraday, M.D., said, “These results really bring home the point that a modest dietary practice can have a huge impact on blood and potentially on the health of people at a mildly elevated risk of heart disease.”


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