Top cardiologist gives verdict on chocolate, coffee and wine

As editor of the European Heart Journal for more than a decade, Prof Thomas Lüscher led a team that sifted through 3,200 manuscripts from scientists and doctors every year. Only a fraction – those deemed “truly novel” and backed up with “solid data” – would be selected for publication.

After stepping down from his role in charge of the world’s top cardiovascular medicine journal, Lüscher has given his verdict on one of the most frequently asked heart health research questions: are wine, chocolate and coffee good or bad for you?

…Lüscher, a consultant cardiologist and director of research, education and development at the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, says the answer is “more complex than a simple yes or no”…Lüscher also cautions that the evidence should be considered “seriously”, given the large numbers of people worldwide that regularly enjoy a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. There are pros and cons to each of them, he suggests, and these can differ depending on how often and how much of each is consumed, as well as by whom.

“Are wine, chocolate, coffee forbidden joys? Well, wine is truly a joy but at best neutral when consumed in moderation. Chocolate is a joy for our CV [cardiovascular] system, if consumed in dark, bitter form. And coffee? It wakes us up, less so if you drink it regularly, and at that dose of up to four cups a day, might even be protective.”

RTFA. Keep on searching and reading if you think you need to. If you’re like me, you’ve already addressed this question a number of times. My experience has the analysis definitely coming down on the side of coffee and chocolate. Wine, not so much or often.

Over time – and I’ve already used up a whole bunch of that – I find I rarely consume anything alcoholic anymore. No special reason. Tastes change. My wife’s coffee is a delight. Strong and dark, I have four cups in the morning – consistently. I think of it as a minimum; but, rarely exceed that number. Dark, unsweetened chocolate is part of my nutrition set, weekly, if not, daily.

Stomach bacteria eat dark chocolate, ferment into compounds which lessen inflammation of cardiovascular tissue

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

U.S. researchers say certain bacteria in the stomach gobble dark chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.

Study leader John Finley of Louisiana State University and colleagues tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, Finley explained.

Cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber, Finley said…Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over.

“In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” Finley said in a statement.

“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”

Finley noted combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person’s overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds…”When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,” Finley added.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods such as raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can’t digest but good bacteria like to eat. These also come as dietary supplements.

I have an ulterior motive in presenting articles like this. Yes, I enjoy the science, the search for better health – so, often, I’m pleased to reflect upon conclusions I’ve already adopted into my own lifestyle.

Better late than never – at this rate I really do hope to break 100.

It ain’t too good to be true — dark chocolate is good for your heart

It might seem too good to be true, but dark chocolate is good for you and scientists now know why. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. What’s more, the scientists also found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect…

“We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health,” said Diederik Esser, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from…Wageningen University, The Netherlands. “However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one.”

As if I needed any special motivation to eat dark chocolate? Every day.

To make this discovery, Esser and colleagues analyzed 44 middle-aged overweight men over two periods of four weeks as they consumed 70 grams of chocolate per day. Study participants received either specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content or chocolate that was regularly produced. Both chocolates had a similar cocoa mass content. Before and after both intervention periods, researchers performed a variety of measurements that are important indicators of vascular health. During the study, participants were advised to refrain from certain energy dense food products to prevent weight gain. Scientists also evaluated the sensory properties of the high flavanol chocolate and the regular chocolate and collected the motivation scores of the participants to eat these chocolates during the intervention.

“The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Until the ‘dark chocolate drug‘ is developed, however, we’ll just have to make do with what nature has given us!”


I do love researchers with a sense of humor. Given the study took place in The Netherlands I’m surprised there wasn’t a parallel and supportive study on real beer.

Green tea + salt = antibacterial coating

Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered new ways of utilizing the properties of naturally occurring polyphenols found in green tea, red wine and dark chocolate. Dissolving polyphenol powders in water with a small amount of salt instantly produces transparent coatings that kill bacteria on contact, have antioxidant qualities and are non-toxic. The sticky nature of polyphenols and the low cost of materials could open the door to a wide range of uses for these coatings.

Apparently the coatings can stick to virtually any surface, even Teflon, and are only 20 to 100 nanometers thick, potentially making them ideal for use in a whole range products…

Polyphenols are naturally occurring molecules found in many plants that also give some flowers, fruits, and vegetables their color. They are antioxidants that can reverse problems caused by oxidative stress to artery walls and their anti-inflammatory properties are said to help relieve chronic pain in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Furthering their research, Professor Phillip Messersmith and his team experimented with dipping various objects into saline solutions of tannic acid or pyrogallol, with similar results but at a much lower cost and with even faster results. They went on to test “medically relevant polymers, engineering polymers, metals, inorganic substrates and ceramics,” with the same success. They were also able to modify the coatings enabling additional functions without affecting the original properties. In one experiment they succeeded in adding an anti-fouling element to the coating which would make it ideal for applying to pacemakers to prevent the buildup of cells on its surface.

The coatings innately have properties that are very beneficial to saving lives and keeping people healthy,” says Tadas S. Sileika, a graduate student in Messersmith’s lab and first author of the paper detailing the research. “Without any further modification, they can help prolong the life of a medical device, reduce inflammation in a patient and prevent bacterial infections.”

Bravo! That last step from anecdotal success at treating ailments and disease with natural compounds has always been difficult. Not the least of which is that tales of success often are magnified in memory and retelling.

Another new area of research truly worth following.

Do chocoholics stand a better chance at winning a Nobel Prize?


Want to win a Nobel prize? You might increase your chances by eating more chocolate, according to a letter in Nature last Thursday.

The research, which outlines a survey of chocolate consumption of 23 male Nobel laureates during their years of prizewinning work, relates that 10 (43%) report eating chocolate more than twice a week, compared to 25% of 237 educated, age-matched men.

This survey follows a 2012 analysis showing the level of national chocolate consumption correlates strongly with the per capita incidence of Nobel Prize Awards.

Flavonoids – the key chemicals claimed to boost cognitive ability – are also in red wine, but you’re unlikely to do great science if you indulge too heavily in that direction.

Of course, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. We can’t say if flavonoid consumption is directly linked to Nobel prizes; there may be a third factor (coffee?) involved.

Yet if the survey’s conclusion is true and chocolate indeed helps cognitive ability it may not, regrettably, have the same effect for memory. After all, the sample group for the survey was pretty small, and – as the joint recipient of the 1996 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine – I can’t remember whether or not I actually filled in the chocolate survey form…

I also wonder a bit about the control group. Those respondents were just normal human beings. A better control group – as the authors acknowledge – would be those who’ve been awarded Ig Nobel Prizes awarded annually for research that “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think”.

Peter Doherty won a Nobel Prize in 1996. He’s never been caught smuggling Cadbury’s Special Dark Chocolate to his young US associates in the American South. Though there are artisanal chocolate makers aplenty in the United States, apparently none are handy to the research facilities he visits.

Daily dose of chocolate cuts risk of strokes, heart disease

Those who eat more chocolate have a 37 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who eat little, according to a Cambridge University analysis of seven separate studies, containing in total over 100,000 people.

They also have a 29 per cent lower chance of stroke, although they do not have a lower risk of heart failure.

The studies, which followed people in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US and Japan for about a decade on average, did not focus on dark chocolate alone, which is believed to be the most beneficial type.

Rather, they included consumption of other types including milk chocolate and chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts.

Dr Oscar Franco, from the university’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, said no one really understood why chocolate appeared to be so good for heart health.

He said: “Foods are very complex structures where many substances interact to have a beneficial effect…”

Dr Franco presented the results at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris on Monday, while a paper has also been published in the British Medical Journal…

He said it only suggested two pieces of chocolate a day; while other studies have indicated a mere 20 to 50g – a small bar’s worth – is enough…

And while the analysis did not differentiate between different types of chocolate, he said it was clear that dark chocolate was the healthier option, as it contained less sugar and fat.

We’ve posted about the chocolate effect before. I certainly take it to heart [pun intended] as does my partner in the Deep South, KB.

I eat a little bit of chocolate almost every evening. Sometimes 72% dark chocolate, sometimes 85% dark.

Chocolate makes your liver happy!

Cocoa-rich dark chocolate could be prescribed for people with liver cirrhosis in future, following the latest research to show potential health benefits of chocolate.

Spanish researchers say that eating dark chocolate capped the usual after-meal rise in abdominal blood pressure, which can reach dangerous levels in cirrhotic patients and, in severe cases, lead to blood vessel rupture.

Antioxidants called flavanols found in cocoa are believed to be the reason why chocolate is good for blood pressure because the chemicals help the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen.

A study of 21 patients with end-stage liver disease found those given a meal containing 85 percent-cocoa dark chocolate had a markedly smaller rise in blood pressure in the liver, or portal hypertension, than those given white chocolate…

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver in Vienna and follow a number of earlier scientific studies suggesting that dark chocolate also promotes heart health.

All the reasons are worthwhile. Chocolate rules!

A third to half of my daily chocolate intake is 85%-cocoa. Makes the 72% stuff taste like milk chocolate. 🙂

A chocolate a day keeps the heart doctor away

Eating as little as a quarter of an ounce of chocolate each day — an amount equal to about one small Easter egg — may lower your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, a new study has found. For best results, the chocolate should be dark, experts say.

Dark chocolate exhibits the greatest effects, milk chocolate fewer, and white chocolate no effects,” says the lead author of the study, Brian Buijsse…

In the study, Buijsse and his colleagues followed nearly 20,000 people for an average of eight years. The researchers surveyed the study participants about their chocolate consumption (as well as the rest of their diet), and also tracked the heart attacks and strokes that occurred in the group.

Compared with people who rarely ate chocolate (about one bar per month), the people who ate the most chocolate (slightly more than one bar per week) had a 27 percent and 48 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, respectively, the researchers found…

The people in the study were part of a larger study on the effect of diet and lifestyle on cancer risk. For the current study, Buijsse and his colleagues excluded anyone with a history of heart disease or stroke, and also controlled for age, diet, lifestyle, and other factors.

Experts believe that natural compounds known as flavonoids (or flavonols), which appear to promote artery health and reduce inflammation, are responsible for the cardiovascular benefits that have been associated with chocolate consumption.

Flavonols are found in cocoa, and dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate does.

Both the stores where we shop have a range of chocolate – and since I grew up with Euro-style chocolate in the house, I prefer the 72% super chocolate I get at Trader Joe’s. They have a small, skinny bar that’s just 1.65 ounce.

New evidence that dark chocolate cures all the world’s problems

The “chocolate cure” for emotional stress is getting new support from a clinical trial published online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research. It found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Everyone’s favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues note growing scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions. Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress.

Until now, however, there was little evidence from research in humans on exactly how chocolate might have those stress-busting effects.

In the study, scientists identified reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks. “The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists say.

Phew! I can always use another excuse. And I happen to prefer dark chocolate.