September 26, 2008
Only Low Doses Of Chocolate Reduce Inflammation Marker
Less than a full candy bar of dark chocolate appears to be the ideal dose for inflammation reduction.
Maybe gourmands are not jumping for joy. Probably they would have preferred bigger amounts to sup-port their passion. Though the news is still good for them: 6.7 grams of chocolate per day represent the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and subsequent cardiovascular disease. A new effect, demonstrated for the first time in a population study by the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute of Milan.
That 6.7 grams per day is only 47 grams per week or about 1.7 ounces. We aren't even talking a full candy bar.
The scientists looked for benefits from chocolate by measuring the level of inflammation by checking C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. Whether lowering CRP with chocolate really will provide a long term health benefit remains unproven.
"We started from the hypothesis", says Romina di Giuseppe, 33, lead author of the study, "that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state. Our results have been absolutely encouraging: people having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced." The 17% average reduction observed may appear quite small, but it is enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease for one third in women and one fourth in men." It is undoubtedly a remarkable outcome".
Chocolate amounts are critical. "We are talking of a moderate consumption. The best effect is obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7 grams of chocolate per day, corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week. Beyond these amounts the beneficial effect tends to disappear".
The researchers didn't bother studying the effects of milk chocolate since they expected the milk to interference with absorption of polyphenols.
From a practical point of view, as the common chocolate bar is 100 grams, the study states that less than half a bar of dark chocolate consumed during the week may become a healthy habit. What about the milk chocolate? "Previous studies", the young investigator continues, "have demonstrated that milk interferes with the absorption of polyphenols. That is why our study considered just the dark chocolate".
I wonder whether interference with polyphenol absorption is one of the reasons why some studies find harmful effects from milk products consumption.
From the paper's abstract: If you ate about 3/4ths of an ounce of dark chocolate every third day you'd get the optimal benefit.
A J-shaped relationship between dark chocolate consumption and serum CRP was observed; consumers of up to 1 serving (20 g) of dark chocolate every 3 d had serum CRP concentrations that were significantly lower than nonconsumers or higher consumers. Our findings suggest that regular consumption of small doses of dark chocolate may reduce inflammation.
So perhaps eat small amounts of dark chocolate a couple of times a week. But why do higher doses of dark chocolate fail to provide a benefit? Is it really the size of the dose or the frequency of the dose that makes consumption of larger amounts of chocolate fail to lower CRP? Maybe more frequent consumption of dark chocolate up-regulates enzymes that break down polyphenols.
Damn, my two squares a day is too much, and I do enjoy it. I wonder if the reduction in benefit is counteracted by the increased feelings of well-being?
From the sound of it, it's not so much that interrupted dosage was important, as that their standard dose was too large relative to the ideal consumption, and the study ought to be repeated with varying daily doses in a smaller range.
That kind of dose/effect curve is a real pain; If there were just diminishing effects, all you'd have to do is take "enough", and you'd be good to go, but it sounds like the dose is going to have to be carefully calibrated to body mass, and perhaps metabolic rate, or you could end up with either too little, or too much.
I think what I'll do is just put some semi-sweet dark chocolate chips in the mixed nut concoction I make every week. Just a sprinkle.
I like the taste of dark chocolate, but in very small doses. As a kid, I loved chocolate bars, but I can hardly get through half of one today.
The dosage isn't too bad. I already leave the dark chocolate "reserves" at home and just pack a few squares (usually 3~4) with my lunch (or snack). This just means that I should drop to 1~2 squares a day depending on the thickness of that particular bar.
Hmmm... I wonder what the dosage would be for cacao nibs. It would be more difficult to overindulge with those moisture suckers!
But if the milk interferes with absorption, and too much destroy the benefit of it, doesn't that interference just mean that you can have a larger dose of chocolate to get the required level of polyphenols if it is milk chocolate? :)
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Nutrition -
"Cocoa Products Decrease Low Density Lipoprotein Oxidative Susceptibility
but Do Not Affect Biomarkers of Inflammation in Humans"
- found that large daily doses (36.9 g of dark chocolate bar and 30.95 g of cocoa powder drink) modestly decreased LDL oxidation potential, and had indeterminate on CRP and other inflammatory markers.
Another paper in that journal found that chocolate increases insulin release in healthy young adults -
"Cocoa Powder Increases Postprandial Insulinemia in Lean Young Adults"
- which doesn't sound very desirable.
Also, chocolate may decrease bone density -
"Chocolate consumption and bone density in older women"
On the other hand, chocolate may increase cerebral blood flow, lower cholesterol, improve skin tone, etc.
Given the strong bias to publish positive results, and how industry funding skews academic lab findings, we should probably be skeptics.
These intervention studies all used too high of doses. That's what is important about this Italian study. Their observational study teased out that the higher doses are too high. That 36.9 grams of dark chocolate used in the 2002 Journal of Nutrition study is over 5 times the optimal dose found by the Italian researchers.
You can bet the chocolate industry won't be keen on the Italian study because the news from that study will discourage higher levels of chocolate consumption.
If the chocolate pushers are as smart as other drug dealers, they will find something other than milk to cut their product down to an optimal dose. Or they will simply ignore the possibility of milk interfering with absorption and start advertising their milk chocolate products as having the ideal dose.