Chocolate and Stroke Prevention

One of your favorite and most decadent snacks has been strongly associated with a reduced risk of stroke.

A research study from the UK and the Netherlands titled the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) Norfolk analysis, examined 20,951 men and women. Careful analysis of food diaries completed by participants determined that those who reported the highest levels of chocolate consumption experienced lower rates of stroke throughout an almost 20 year follow up period, while those who reported very low or no chocolate consumption had the highest rates of stroke.

This study was consistent with several other research studies at different institutions that have also looked at the association between chocolate and stroke risk.

Bar of chocolate in the wrapper on a stone counter

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A large analysis from Sweden followed 37,103 Swedish men for ten years. The Swedish results similarly showed that those who reported the highest chocolate consumption, averaging 62.9 grams (a little more than 2 ounces) per week, had the lowest stroke risk.

An even larger investigation examined a bigger group, a total of 157,809 participants from nine different studies, and found the same trend.

A Caveat

It's important to note that all these studies are observational, meaning they just look for correlations between risk factors and outcomes. They can't prove conclusively that chocolate is what reduced participants' stroke risk. It's possible that people who eat more chocolate also have other healthy characteristics that help to prevent stroke.

How Chocolate Might Protect Against Stroke

Chocolate is a tasty treat, but when you eat it, the cocoa in chocolate also has several biological and chemical effects on your body. These biochemical actions include protecting the inside lining of your blood vessels, which works to prevent stickiness that contributes to the formation of harmful blood clots.

Blood clots in the brain cause ischemic strokes. Healthy blood vessels are also more resistant to the risk of tearing and leaking that results in sudden bleeding. Thus, cocoa could serve to protect you from another type of stroke, which is a hemorrhagic stroke.

Additionally, cocoa beans have been scientifically proven to provide antioxidant effects, which is important in counteracting the brain damage induced by a stroke.

Chocolate has been established as a means to reduce feelings of stress and the perception of stress. Severe stress increases your risk of stroke, and the long-term effects of chronic stress also raise the likelihood that you will have a stroke.

How Much to Eat

The research investigations were pretty consistent in finding that the highest group’s chocolate consumption was between 16 grams and 99 grams of chocolate per day, which is about half an ounce to 3.5 ounces per day. That is the equivalent of eating between 10 chocolate chips and up to one regular size chocolate bar, or a few snack size chocolate bars per day.

Best Type of Chocolate

The benefits of chocolate are found in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate. But this is where it gets a little tricky.

The healthy effects specifically come from chocolate produced from the cocoa plant, not from imitation chocolate flavoring, food coloring, artificial chocolate smells or sugars. Be sure to read labels, because many chocolate-flavored snacks and candies do not contain actual chocolate made with cocoa. Instead, some processed chocolate-flavored products are made with only small amounts of chocolate and contain food coloring and other additives that can make them resemble chocolate.

Dark chocolate and milk chocolate are both made from cocoa, while white chocolate is not made with the same cocoa ingredients that have been linked to stroke protection.

Dark chocolate (the higher percentage of cocoa, the better) is usually regarded as the best for your health, because it has the highest concentration of antioxidants and fewer additives like sugar.

Preventing Stroke

The best news about stroke prevention is that is isn't expensive, unusual or hard to do. A variety of easy and enjoyable lifestyle modifications can go a long way in reducing your risk of stroke. Eating and sharing moderate amounts of chocolate just might be the most pleasant way to protect yourself and your loved ones from having a stroke.

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2 Sources
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  1. Kwok CS, Boekholdt SM, Lentjes MA, et al. Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart. 2015;101(16):1279-87. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2014-307050.

  2. Larsson SC, Virtamo J, Wolk A. Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke: A prospective cohort of men and meta-analysis. Neurology. 2012;79(12):1223-1229. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31826aacfa.