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Ingredient in Dark Chocolate Could Guard Against Stroke
Date:5/9/2010

Flavanol triggers protective pathways that shield nerve cells in the brain, study finds

SUNDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Something in dark chocolate seems to help protect the heart, and now researchers say they have identified the molecular mechanism by which a compound found in cocoa can guard against the damage of a stroke.

The compound, a flavanol called epicatechin, triggers two built-in protective pathways in the brain, according to a report published online last week in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. The research team was led by Sylvain Dore, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Animal studies raise the possibility that epicatechin may someday be used to treat strokes in humans, since its protective effect can be seen more than three hours after a stroke. Existing stroke treatments typically have a shorter window of activity.

While the cardioprotective effect of dark chocolate seen in several human studies appears to open the possibility that eating lots of chocolate is healthy, "I prefer to focus on cocoa," Dore said. "Cocoa is not like chocolate, which is high in saturated fat and calories. Cocoa can be part of a healthy diet, combined with fruits and vegetables."

It was a study of the cocoa-drinking Kuna Indians, living on islands off the coast of Panama, that led researchers to study epicatechin. An unusually low incidence of stroke and other cardiovascular disease in that population could not be explained by genetic studies, and eventually was attributed to consumption of a very bitter cocoa drink.

Studies by a number of scientists, including Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School, identified epicatechin as the protective ingredient in dark chocolate and cocoa.

The latest research looked at the mechani
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