Digging your teeth into your favorite chocolate bar could save you from high blood pressure, cancer and dementia, for researchers have revealed that a chemical found in chocolate could keep a number of diseases at bay.
Epicatechin, a compound which occurs naturally in cocoa beans, could prove as important to medicine as penicillin or anaesthesia, say experts.
Professor Norman Hollenberg, of Harvard Medical School, spent years studying central American Indians whose diet is exceptionally rich in cocoa. He found the Kuna tribe rarely suffer from high blood pressure and have much lower rates of cancer, heart disease and strokes – some of the biggest killers in the developed world – than neighbouring tribes in Panama. He suggested this is due to their high intake of epicatechin, which they get from drinking up to five cups of cocoa a day.
Professor Hollenberg said the health benefits of the chemical, which is also found in tea, wine and some fruit and vegetables, could be enormous. He added: “If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine.
“We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of four of the five most common diseases in the Western world. How important does that make epicatechin? I would say very important.” -Professor Hollenberg
Professor Hollenberg, whose work is part-funded by confectionery giant Mars, compared the health of the Kuna, who live on a group of isolated islands, with that of inhabitants of the Panamanian mainland.Analysis of death certificates showed that the Kuna, who start drinking cocoa from the moment they are weaned, were 25 times less likely to die of cancer and 13 times less likely to be killed by a stroke.
Death from heart disease was five times less common, while diabetes deaths were six times less common, according to the report in the International Journal of Medical Sciences. Other research showed that when the Kuna moved to the mainland, they were more likely to suffer from these conditions – suggesting their previous good health was due to diet rather than genes.
It is thought that epicatechin boosts health by relaxing blood vessels and improving circulation. Other conditions that could benefit from this include dementia, impotence and pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening complication of pregnancy.
ANI: Chocolate can keep cancer, heart disease and strokes at bay.
12 March 2007 Asian News International