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

sm of protection in mice who were induced to have strokes. "We gave different doses of epicatechin in mice 90 minutes before a stroke and found that it reduced infarct [stroke damage] size," Dore explained. "When we gave epicatechin after a stroke, it had a protective effect up to 3.5 hours later, but not after six hours."

Detailed studies showed that the flavanol activated two well-known pathways that shield nerve cells in the brain from damage, the Nrf2 and heme oxygenase pathways, Dore said. Epicatechin had no protective effect in mice bred to lack those pathways.

The possibility of using epicatechin to limit human stroke damage is distant, Dore said. "We have to be very careful," he said. "There are a lot of steps before going to human trials, potential risks and side effects. We need more work and more funding."

Dore's long-term plan calls for studies of epicatechin metabolites and derivatives, in cardiac disease as well as stroke. "At this point, we are using only the pure compound," he said.

Dr. Martin Lajous, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health who took part in one study that showed a reduced incidence of stroke in people who ate dark chocolate regularly, agreed with Dore in saying that eating a lot of chocolate is not a healthy dietary move.

Not all chocolate is created equal, Lajous said. "That's why we did the study in France, where they eat dark chocolate that is rich in flavanols," he said. "Chocolate comes with a lot of calories. I would talk about small amounts of dark chocolate rather than chocolate in general."

And the protective mechanism by which chocolate might prevent stroke isn't yet clear, Lajous added. The main effect appears to be the lowering of blood pressure, he said. "Flavanols are hypothesized to affect relaxation of smooth vascular muscle, such as the endothelial lining of blood vessels," Lajous said.

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