Men who consume moderate amounts of chocolate each week may have a lower risk of stroke, a new study finds.
Published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, the study looked at the diet patterns in more than 37,000 Swedish men between the ages of 39 and 75, asking about their consumption of various foods and drinks, specifically chocolate, and then reviewed their medical records going back 10 years.
The researchers found the stroke risk was lower in men who’d consumed chocolate, especially in those who reported consuming it in large amounts. Men who reported eating the largest amount of chocolate - about one-third of a cup per week - had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who did not consume any chocolate, the study found.
“While other studies have looked at how chocolate may help cardiovascular health, this is the first of its kind to find that chocolate may be beneficial in reducing stroke in men,” the authors, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, wrote.
When the investigators compared their results to those of previous studies they found that they reinforced what had been previously suspected about chocolate’s link to lower stroke risk. But the previous studies looked only at the stroke risk in women; none had looked specifically at men.
“This will likely provide a rationale for chocolate lovers around the world to enjoy their treats with less guilt,” says Dr. Gary W. Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, who was not involved in this new research.
Surprisingly, the new study found that this chocolate effect was not specific to dark chocolate – about 90 percent of the chocolate the men in this study consumed was milk chocolate. Previous studies had suggested that the reduction of stroke risk was linked only to dark chocolate.
Many of chocolate’s benefits have been linked to substances called flavanoids, which appear to protect against cardiovascular disease, an effect researchers have attributed largely to their antioxidant, anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties. While present in most forms of chocolate, flavanoids are most prevalent in dark chocolate. It’s suggested that their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Not everyone is buying into the idea that milk chocolate is what people should be reaching for if they’re at risk for stroke. Dr. Roger A. Brumback, a professor of pathology, psychiatry and neurology at Creighton University Medical Center, who was not involved in the current study, says that all chocolate is not created equal.
“The major advantage of dark chocolate over milk chocolate is that the flavonoids are not diluted by the addition of milk,” Brumback says. “Dark chocolate is about 35 percent cocoa, while milk chocolate can be as low as 10 percent. The patient would have to consume more milk chocolate, which would give a higher dose of sugars with its consequent negative possibilities.”
Other experts were quick to note that chocolate should not form the basis of anyone’s stroke prevention strategy — either for men or women. “Stroke prevention would be one of the many cardioprotective effects, but I would also note that the effect is modest and pales in comparison to overall diet, regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco,” says Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.