Could chocolate prevent cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes?
A new study conducted at LIH’s Department of Population Health appears to back up the adage that “a little of what you fancy does you good”. The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in March 2016, reveal the potential benefits of chocolate on health. They indicate that the daily consumption of moderate amounts of chocolate may help to prevent cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
In this study, led by Dr Ala’a Alkerwi and collaborators, it was found that people with higher consumption of chocolate had lower insulin levels, a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as well as improved liver enzyme levels. Over 80% of participants reported consuming an average of 24.8 grams of chocolate per day.
‘Given the growing body of evidence, including our own study, cocoa-based products may represent an additional dietary recommendation to improve cardiometabolic health’, states Prof Saverio Stranges, Scientific Director of the Department of Population Health. ‘However, observational results need to be supported by robust trial evidence. Randomised control trials in which a direct comparison is made between a chocolate-consuming and a control group will be necessary.’
Potential applications of this newly gained knowledge include recommendations by healthcare professionals to encourage individuals to consume a wide range of phytochemical-rich foods, which can include chocolate in moderate amounts. Nevertheless, it is important to differentiate between the natural product cocoa and the processed product chocolate, which is an energy-dense food. Therefore, physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors must be carefully balanced to avoid detrimental weight gain over time.
Another interesting result of the study is that people who claimed to eat chocolate were younger, more physically active and had higher levels of education than those who claimed not to eat chocolate on a daily basis. Principal investigator Dr Alkerwi comments on this: ‘It is possible that chocolate consumption may represent an overall marker for a cluster of favourable socio-demographic profiles, healthier lifestyle behaviours and better health status. This could explain, at least in part, the observed inverse associations with insulin resistance and liver biomarkers.’
The findings were generated with data from 1153 people aged 18 to 69 and living in Luxembourg, who were part of the LUX-ORISCAV study (Observation des Risques et de la Santé Cardiovasculaire au Luxembourg) conducted between 2007 and 2008. To interpret the data, the researchers took into account the lifestyle of the participants as well as dietary factors, such as the simultaneous consumption of tea and coffee, two polyphenol-rich beverages potentially favouring the cardiometabolic effects of chocolate.
The study was conducted in close collaboration with international partners: the University of Warwick Medical School (England), the University of South Australia (Australia) and the University of Maine (States United). It received financial support from the National Research Fund Luxembourg (FNR) in the framework of the DIQUA-LUX project.
Photo: ©André Karwath aka Aka