Antioxidants in Chocolate & Heart Disease

Consumption of chocolate has been often thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease due to chocolate’s high levels of antioxidant flavonoids and stearic acid.

In the American diet, fruits, vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate are major sources of antioxidants, which have been shown to have protective effects against coronary heart disease and strokes.

One type of antioxidants, flavonoids, commonly found in these foods, have attracted interest in potentially lowering risk of cardiovascular disease.

Antioxidants in chocolate and chocolate facts

Cocoa products contain greater antioxidant capacity and greater amounts of flavonoids per serving than all teas and red wines.

Since ancient times, chocolate has long been used as a medicinal remedy and been proposed in medicine today for preventing various chronic diseases. While chocolate has also sometimes been criticized for its saturated fat content, mostly in the form of long-chain stearic acid, chocolate has also been praised for its antioxidant potential.

American researchers, reporting in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism reviewed the litrature (studies) from January 1965 to June 2005 for relations between cocoa, cacao, chocolate, stearic acid, flavonoids (including flavonols, flavanols, catechins, epicatechins, and procynadins) and the risk of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and stroke).

The body of short-term randomized feeding trials suggests cocoa and chocolate may exert beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk via effects on lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammation, anti-platelet function, higher HDL cholesterol and decreased LDL cholesterol oxidation.

Also, a large body of trials of stearic acid, with its saturated fat content, suggests it ihas no effects on cholesterol.

Flavanoids in chocolate have been shown to exert potent antioxidant effects in vitro assays under artificial oxidative stress as well increase antioxidant capacity as part of various chocolate feeding trials.

Chocolate Facts.

A 100 g bar of milk chocolate contains 170 mg of flavonoid antioxidants, procyanidins and flavanols.

Per serving, dark chocolate contains substantially higher amounts of flavonoids than milk chocolate (951 mg of catechins per 40 g serving compared to 394 mg in white chocolate), and levels of epicatechin in dark chocolate is comparable to red wine and tea.

Also of note, dark chocolate contains significantly greater amounts of total phenols as well as catechins than milk chocolate per serving.

In addition to dark chocolate having higher flavonoid content, the biologic effects of flavonoids may also be greater in dark chocolate because milk intake has been shown to prevent the intestinal absorption of flavonoids.

Because dark chocolate has substantially higher levels of flavonoids than milk chocolate, and that milk inhibits absorption of flavonoids, it would be wiser to consume high flavonoid dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate.

Chocolate is also abundant in procyanidin flavonoids, comparable with levels in procyanidin-rich apples. Therefore, chocolate is a rich source of flavonoids, particularly catechins, epicatechins and procyanidins.

Cocoa, is particularly rich in the flavonoids, epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins (polymers of catechins and epicatechins).

Cocoa has been shown to have the highest content of polyphenols (611 mg/serving) and flavanoids (564 mg/serving of epicatechin), greater than even tea and wine.

There are several ways that flavonoids may be protective against cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease, stroke). These include: antioxidant, anti-platelet, anti-inflammatory effects, as well as possibly increasing HDL, lowering blood pressure, and improving endothelial function.

Reference:
Extracted and adapted from: Eric L Ding, Susan M Hutfless, Xin Ding, Saket Girotra. Chocolate and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review. Nutrition & Metabolism 2006, 3:2 (3 January 2006). © 2006 Ding et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0).

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