A sea of red ... (and chocolate)! During heart health month, 3 research projects that prove dark chocolate is the food of the Gods

  
For the Howell Foundation, things couldn't have turned out better.  February 3rd was 'Go Red for Women Day', the Heart Health Month awareness campaign was once again reminding women about the risks of heart disease,  and we had invited Dr. Taub from UCSD to present her latest research on cardiovascular disease.  And she might just pretty well have given us the greatest tip of all: knowing that we can take care of our heart while making our lives a little more pleasurable with chocolate... dark chocolate!

Dr. Taub is a general cardiologist and believes that prevention is the new frontier in cardiology.  She is also is a huge believer in chocolate.  Her research focuses on the beneficial effects of dark chocolate and going back to basics; nutrition, controlling our cholesterol and managing our blood pressure -- which is simple, doesn't cost a lot of money, and requires little effort.

It is clear that the benefits of cacao are now recorded in history as perhaps one of the most reliable ways of preventing heart disease.  Going beyond the recorded history of ancient civilizations such as the Mayas and the Aztecs, research conducted with the Kuna Indians back in the 60's on an island off of Panama further explains the values of dark chocolate. Researchers found that the health of the Kuna was not necessarily related to a set of genetic factors, but to a beverage based on cacao extract that lowered not only cardiovascular disease , but other illnesses as well. Coincidentally, when any of these indians moved to mainland Panama, breaking the routine of having a cacao-based beverage had consequences to their health.  

In today's world, the effect of cacao has proven to have a significant influence on our health. The active ingredient in cacao, epicatechin, can decrease blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity,  decrease the formation of platelets, decrease the incidence of stroke, improve kidney function in aging patients, and reduce our bad cholesterol.  As the saying goes, "the proof is in the pudding" -- dark chocolate pudding, of course!

  • Among all the health consequences smokers have, endothelial dysfunction is perhaps one of the most relevant.  The thinning of the lining of arteries leads to higher blood pressure, more plaque formation and adherence to the artery, and other dysfunctions --such as clots-- that can lead to stroke.  A study showed that when a group of smokers where given epicatechin, the diameter and thickness of their arteries had improved, and the compound had minimized its deterioration.  During the process, researchers discovered the role nitric oxide had on the arteries.  Turns out that the higher the level of nitric oxide we have in our bodies, the more protected our arteries become.  The reason why exercise is so relevant to our health is the production of nitric oxide. 
  •  Another research project consisted of giving dark chocolate to patients with heart transplants; only to discover that the diameter of the arteries had increased, which is a good thing, as it meant more blood flow to the body.  At that point, science was showing 'real science' behind the benefits of dark chocolate.  Further research showed that, in a provoked heart attack in rats, those with epicatechin had a smaller episode of heart failure than those who did not receive a dose of the compound.  Epicatechin, in fact, was reducing the size of heart attacks. 
  • Taking all the scientific facts she had researched, both on tests conducted by herself as well as the research of others, she set out to examine the effects of dark chocolate in a small group of patients with diabetes and heart disease.  The health of this group of individuals was serious, and most of them had a plethora of pills to take.  A skeletal muscle biopsy revealed that not only had their condition been controlled, but that epicatechin was also having a positive effect on the body's cellular powerhouse, the mitochondria.  

So after all the evidence of how dark chocolate is beneficial to our health, why is it considered a "bitter truth"?  Dr. Taub recommends having a couple of pieces of dark chocolate consisting of 70% or cacao or more.

If you think about it, however, it should be more of a silver lining. It is a matter of it being an acquired taste.  Bottom line is that dark chocolate is not only healthy.  If it is the food of the Gods it should be, therefore, SACRED. And it is honestly, quite necessary!

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About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to students researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, and researchers to convey timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that improve the health of under-served women and increase awareness and advocacy in the community.

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