Chocolate and Stroke Risk

Chocolate and Stroke Risk

September 15, 2019 72 By Ewald Bahringer


“Chocolate and Stroke Risk” The problem with publishing research
on chocolate is that the press jumps on it, oversimplifying and
sensationalizing the message. Then the money starts rolling in from candy
companies, muddying the message, but lost in all that is an important idea
that the flavanol phytonutrients in cocoa do appear to be beneficial. The sugar in chocolate
isn’t good for us. The fat and excess calories
in chocolate aren’t good for us. But natural cocoa powder can
be considered a health food. So adding cocoa to a smoothie or oatmeal
or whatever would be health promoting. But ideally choose unprocessed,
undutched cocoa, since the flavanols are what
give cocoa its bitterness, so they try to process cocoa with
alkali to destroy them on purpose. Thus when it comes to cocoa,
bitter appears to be better. In my video on chocolate
and artery function I showed how dark chocolate
could improve the function of coronary arteries in the heart
within two hours of consumption, using fancy angiography, but there are some blood vessels
you can visualize with your eyes, the blood vessels in your eyes. Two hours after eating dark chocolate, a significant improvement in the ability
of the little veins in your eyes to dilate. What about the blood
vessels in your legs? Peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis
in the arteries feeding your limbs leading to claudication, a crampy
pain in your calf muscles when you try to exercise
due to impaired blood flow. So maximal walking distance (MWD)
and maximal walking time (MWT) were studied in 20 peripheral
artery disease patients two hours after
eating dark chocolate, with a respectable 85+% cocoa, or
after eating whimpy milk chocolate. After the dark chocolate, they could
walk about a dozen more yards and about 17 more seconds
than before the dark chocolate, but after the milk chocolate they
weren’t even able to walk as far as baseline and not
a single second more. So there does seem to be something
in cocoa that’s helping, but a few seconds here and there
aren’t going to cut it. How about reversing
the atherosclerosis, which we didn’t even think
possible until 1977. Wait, what happened in ’77? Dean Ornish didn’t start publishing
on heart disease reversal until 1979. Well, actually the first demonstration
of atherosclerosis reversal with a cholesterol-lowering
diet and drugs wasn’t on the coronary arteries
going to the heart, but rather the femoral arteries
going to the legs. What about the arteries
going to the brain? Well, there’s a noninvasive way
to measure arterial function within the brain using
transcranial ultrasound. If you ask someone to hold their
breath, the brain says, uh-oh, and starts opening up the arteries
to increase blood flow to compensate. But if the arteries in our brain are stiffened
and crippled by atherosclerosis, they’re unable to open as much
and as fast as they should, and so are said to have a smaller
breath holding index, which can be a risk factor for stroke. So researchers designed an experiment
in which they compared the results of a target food to
something neutral like oatmeal. So did they choose like a spoonful
of cocoa powder or something? No. A randomized crossover trial of
oatmeal versus a deep-fried Mars bar. Wait, why a deep-fried Mars bar? Well, this was published in
the Scottish Medical Journal, and evidently deep-fried Mars bar’s
a snack strongly associated with Scotland. Wait… Is this just an
urban legend or something? No. 627 fish and chip shops
in Scotland were called to ascertain the delicacy’s availability.
And more than 1 in 5 said, “Yeah,” selling up to 200 a week.
Just follow the signs. Comes out a little
something like this. Batter-dipped and deep-fried
Snickers bars and pizza were
evidently less popular. The researchers conclude that
it’s not just an urban legend. Encouragingly, they did find
some evidence of the penetrance of the Mediterranean diet, albeit
in the form of deep-fried pizza. Could this be contributing to Scotland having among the highest
stroke rate in Europe? Well, they put it to the
test, and interestingly, there was a significant drop
in men compared to women. Maybe men are from Mars,
women are from Snickers? Regardless, what about chocolate
that’s not deep-fried? There’s been a few population studies
that have followed people over time, and found that those who ate
chocolate appeared to have lower stroke rates, since
confirmed by another study. But maybe chocolate consumption
just happens to be related to other behaviors that are
heart and brain healthy. Like hey, people that exercise
a lot have to eat more food, period, so maybe they eat more chocolate? They didn’t see any evidence of that
but you can’t account for everything. I mean, to prove cause and effect
you’d have to like randomize people into two groups and make half
eat chocolate and the other half not and follow them out
for a decade or two. To which one researcher
replied “fat chance.” You try to get people into a study where they could be randomized
to 16 years without chocolate.