Dark chocolate has been found to reduce serum levels of CRP (C - reactive protein) - a protein found in the bloodstream, associated with heart disease, infection and chronic illnesses such as lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. The findings come from Dr Romina di Giuseppe (Catholic University, Campobasso, Italy) and colleagues, and are reported in the October 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
The results are part of the Moli-sani Project – a large epidemiologic study aimed at individuals living in the Molise region of Italy. The research is aimed at discovering genetic and environmental causes of heart disease and cancer.
As part of the study, the scientists looked at 4849 healthy people without risk factors – 824 ate chocolate regularly and 1317 did not eat any chocolate. The researchers measured CRP levels using the group’s normal level of chocolate consumption. The results showed that CRP levels were lower in the individuals who consumed dark chocolate. The study group adjusted their results for systolic blood pressure, BMI, waist/hip ratio, total energy intake and food groups, finding that it takes just the right amount of chocolate to get the health benefits. Eating too much chocolate did not yield the same beneficial effects.
The authors concluded that moderate intake of dark chocolate is the best to reduce the risk of inflammation and disease. Dr Licia Iacoviello, senior study author says, "It could be that if you increase the amount of chocolate by too much, the increase in lipids and calories overcomes the effects of the antioxidants."
Eating one small square of dark chocolate, two to three times a week is enough to reduce the risk the heart disease one-third in women and one-fourth in men. The study “adds new insight into the relationship between flavonoid-rich foods, inflammation, and cardiovascular protection, “say the Italian scientists.
J Nutr 2008; 138: 1939-1945