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Study To Test 'Chocolate Pills' For Heart Health

It won't be nearly as much fun as eating candy bars, but a big study is being launched to see if pills containing the nutrients in dark chocolate can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The pills are so packed with nutrients that you'd have to eat a gazillion candy bars to get the amount being tested in this study, which will enroll 18,000 men and women nationwide.

"People eat chocolate because they enjoy it," not because they think it's good for them, and the idea of the study is to see whether there are health benefits from chocolate's ingredients minus the sugar and fat, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The study will be the first large test of cocoa flavanols, which in previous smaller studies improved blood pressure, cholesterol, the body's use of insulin, artery health and other heart-related factors.

A second part of the study will test multivitamins to help prevent cancer. Earlier research suggested this benefit but involved just older, unusually healthy men. Researchers want to see if multivitamins lower cancer risk in a broader population.

The study will be sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc., maker of M&M's and Snickers bars. The candy company has patented a way to extract flavanols from cocoa in high concentration and put them in capsules. Mars and some other companies sell cocoa extract capsules, but with less active ingredient than those that will be tested in the study; candy contains even less.

"You're not going to get these protective flavanols in most of the candy on the market. Cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by the processing," said Manson, who will lead the study with Howard Sesso at Brigham and others at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Participants will get dummy pills or two capsules a day of cocoa flavanols for four years, and neither they nor the study leaders will know who is taking what during the study. The flavanol capsules are coated and have no taste, said Manson, who tried them herself.

In the other part of the study, participants will get dummy pills or daily multivitamins containing a broad range of nutrients.

Participants will be recruited from existing studies, which saves money and lets the study proceed much more quickly, Manson said, although some additional people with a strong interest in the research may be allowed to enroll. The women will come from the Women's Health Initiative study, the long-running research project best known for showing that menopause hormone pills might raise heart risks rather than lower them as had long been thought. Men will be recruited from other large studies.

Manson also is leading a government-funded study testing vitamin D pills in 26,000 men and women. Results are expected in three years.

People love vitamin supplements but "it's important not to jump on the bandwagon" and take pills before they are rigorously tested, she warned.

"More is not necessarily better," and research has shown surprising harm from some nutrients that once looked promising, she said.

Join the discussion

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cactusj8 March 17 2014 at 10:42 AM

Beware the oxalate crystals. Kidney stones hurt like hell.

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williambeasy March 17 2014 at 7:59 AM

Sounds like a no-lose situation for chocolate-lovers! Remember the old saw, "Too much of a good thing is not good."? Maybe!

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jimmaresa March 17 2014 at 9:28 AM

I have been on a cocoa "diet" for three months now. Sixty grams of 70% cocoa a day. So far, no weight gain, blood pressure down 20 points and blood sugar down 15 points and in the normal range. Getting blood work done in a couple of weeks to see whatever else might be happening. I do have cancer and just had a CT scan done. Results come out later this week. I have high hopes and 70% is not anywhere as bitter as some would have you think. In fact, I can't stand a regular chocolate bar. If all works out, I'll likely become a chocolate evangelistic person.

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1 reply
mae13rle11 jimmaresa March 17 2014 at 9:43 AM

Good Luck to you! I agree with you that 70% dark is perfect. I no longer can stand milk chocalate at all.....

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1 reply
Judith mae13rle11 March 17 2014 at 9:57 AM

And I can barely get down 70% dark - bitter, bitter, bitter! Furthermore, I don't really like chocolate in any form, even milk chocolate, although that I can eat it and once in awhile I like a cup of hot cocoa. My friends tell me I'm a disgrace to womanhood by not liking chocolate! Oh, well - to each his/her own. I just wish they'd discover health benefits in caramel!

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anders443 March 17 2014 at 10:01 AM

;) mmmmmm chocolate

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amandria1 March 17 2014 at 2:26 PM

People need to re-read article. There are good things in the cocoa, dark no where does it claim sugar is good for you or that it is in the pills just the ingredients they believe are a health benefit, and its been well known for year that in dark chocolate specific they believed there were heart benefits. So the overeating chocolate or whatever comments are ludicruous because the article doesn't imply anyone should over eat candy.

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pickledtink420 amandria1 March 17 2014 at 6:44 PM

amandria1 : You are correct that as far as eating or overeating chocolate has not been advised for health reasons { sugar }....It should be noted the reason is that chocolate in real form is extremely bitter...the true benefit of the Flavanol in Cocoa is too take in pill form , which I have been taking for some time now
by Cocoa Well..~!~

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patdiggins March 17 2014 at 10:57 AM

I want to be on your list for the chocolate pills.

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1 reply
Blazefire patdiggins March 17 2014 at 12:56 PM

me too on yor list for choc. pills...

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Doc March 17 2014 at 11:35 AM

What is the amount of chocolate concentrate for diet?

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nobledestrocobra March 17 2014 at 12:36 PM

interesting.... i was under the impression that added sugar(sucrose and fructose) were just determined to be the leading cause of obesity and diabetes in america today... all that new 50 plus year research seems to indicate that once processed foods replaced real food that the average health of american's dropped steadily.. jnk-1 dna is what your body breaks the fructose and sucrose into. it is this floating dna (which the body doesn't break down) that causes body fat. naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and such, only when coupled with a high in fiber diet, become a safe alternative. BUT ONLY WHEN COUPLED WITH HIGH AMOUNTS OF FIBER! Glucose good. sucrose and fructose bad! do the math. examine your diet. look at the(soon to be disappearing label) on the food you purchase. most 'foods' have as much sugar added to them as a milkshake. ADDED! completely necessary but added because this country allows its food makers the luxury of producing product that has a shelf life on three decades. and most importantly- new moms- read the label on your baby formula..... nine out of ten items you will have no idea what they are.... however, recognizing that the formula has 15 or more grams of added sugars should be easy to spot.... im sorry but babies should not be obese! also, the majority of the ingredients are genetically modified.... NEW MOTHERS... READ ABOUT GMO!!!! help save our future because our government only cares about their own personal gain in the end. and everybody out there, do yourself a favor, and good monstanto.... they are the controllers of EVERYTHING america. they OWN us! get educated and resist. thank you.

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Jeff March 17 2014 at 1:22 PM

Just another way for those who are going overeat chocolate to misread reality and feel good about their overindulgence.

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picot5 March 17 2014 at 8:34 PM

I could never understand craving chocolate. Although I don't crave any food. Once in a while I think about buying a certain item next shopping trip. It's not like I have to have it. I guess I must lack the craving gene. However I need some kind of sweet after dinner to complete the meal. Does that constitute a craving???

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