Men who eat chocolate on a regular basis may have a lower chance of suffering a stroke, according to a new Swedish study.
For a decade, researchers followed more than 37,000 men and found that those who consumed the most chocolate had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than men who avoided chocolate.
The chocolate-eating group typically had the equivalent of one-third of a cup of chocolate chips each week.
The research, published in the journal Neurology, is not the first to link chocolate to cardiovascular health. Several studies have suggested that chocolate eaters have lower rates of certain risks for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure.
These studies, however, do not prove that chocolate is the reason. And the new one, funded by the Swedish Council for working Life and Social Research and the Swedish Research Council, doesn’t either, according to a neurologist not involved in the study.
The study was well done, said Dr. Richard B. Libman, vice chair of neurology at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in New York. However, he added, it’s what researchers call an observational study.
This means that investigators look for patterns, like whether chocolate lovers have fewer strokes. The results cannot prove cause-and-effect.
The study, led by Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, followed 37,100 Swedish men ages 49 to 75 who reported on their usual intake of chocolate and other foods. Over the next 10 years, 1,995 men suffered their first stroke.
Among men in the top 25 percent for chocolate intake, the stroke rate was 73 per 100,000 men per year, compared to a rate of 85 per 100,000 among men who ate the least chocolate.
Larsson’s team incorporated other data regarding the participants—such as weight and other diet habits, whether they smoked and whether they had high blood pressure. Even with all these things considered, men who ate the most chocolate had a 17 percent lower stroke risk.
Still, Libman said, there may be unmeasured factors that could account for the connection.
Perhaps, he noted, that men who ate chocolate were already in good health, and saw themselves that way. So they might have felt more free to “indulge” in chocolate than other men did.
There is evidence, however, that chocolate has real benefits. “The beneficial effect of chocolate consumption on stroke may be related to the flavonoids in chocolate,” Larsson said in a written release from the journal.
Flavonoids are compounds that act as antioxidants and may, based on other research, have positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol and blood vessel function.
For women who are wondering if the research applies to them as well, Larsson’s team found similar results in a study of 33,000 Swedish women last year.