That Valentine's box of delectable chocolates that made your heart sing last weekend also might—if it is the right type—help make it tick better and longer, scientists gathered last week in Washington said.
Raw cocoa contains flavonoids, plant-based compounds with protective antioxidants like those in green tea. The antioxidants, which may help decrease blood pressure and improve circulation, according to preliminary study results released at a daylong session centered on the medical uses and developmental potential of the cocoa tree.
As far back as the Mayas, the South American native tree, formally called the Theobroma cacao, inspired songs praising the liquid, which they called the "food of the gods." The ancient inhabitants produced it from the beans of the tree's football-size pods.
Judging by samples of their pepper-laced version—the ancient recipe was reproduced for sessiongoers to sample—the fiery cocoa they brewed was strong enough to jolt the drinker into good health. And for centuries, people followed the Maya and Aztec prescriptions and consumed cocoa, the ground beans of the cacao, for an array of ills.
Though chocolate's popularity as a favored sweet trumped its medicinal uses beginning in the mid-19th century, scientists turned again to investigating its health benefits more than a decade ago, financed partly by Mars, which is privately held. So far, researchers have begun to connect flavonoids with lowering the death rate from heart disease, said Dr. Helmut Sies, chairman of the biochemistry department at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany.
The heart benefits of chocolate consumption are far from confirmed. In-depth comparative studies still need to be conducted to learn whether certain elements of cocoa act like baby aspirin for the heart. And some experts point out that the fat in chocolate could instead be associated with deadly cardiovascular and kidney diseases.
We see a new study like this every couple of months, and then nothing about it ever again from the same source.
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