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‘Chocolate can help save your life'

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Nursing Times’ weekly series sifts the facts from the fiction.

What did the media report?

The media reported that eating a small square of dark chocolate daily protects the heart from inflammation and subsequent disease.

What did the research show?

The stories are based on new findings from the Moli-sani Project, a major European epidemiological study involving a cohort of nearly 20,000 people from one region in Italy.

The researchers identified 4,849 subjects considered to be in good health and free from cardiovascular risk factors. Of these 1,317 had not eaten any chocolate during the previous 12 months and 824 said they ate dark chocolate regularly.

Blood serum concentrations of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein were on average 1.32mg/L in those who did not eat chocolate and 1.10mg/L in those who did. In subjects who consumed up to 20g of dark chocolate every three days, concentrations of C-reactive protein were significantly lower than those who ate larger quantities or no chocolate.

What did the researchers say?

Lead author Romina di Giuseppe, a researcher in genetics and environmental epidemiology at Catholic University, Campobasso, said: ‘Our results have been absolutely encouraging – people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced.

‘The best effect is obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7g of chocolate per day, corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week. Beyond these amounts the beneficial effect tends to disappear.’

What does this mean for nursing practice?

June Davison, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Daily consumption of a small square of dark chocolate was associated with a reduction in C-reactive protein. No benefits were found in eating more than this small amount.

‘This study adds to previous research which has shown that eating dark chocolate may have some benefits for our cardiovascular health but only in moderation. Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a better way to get heart health benefits without having to worry about the fat and sugar packed into chocolate.’

Journal of Nutrition (2008) 138: 1939–1945

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