Skip to content

Please note that 70 grams equals 2 1/2 ounces of chocolate. From Science Daily:

Why dark chocolate is good for your heart

It might seem too good to be true, but dark chocolate is good for you and scientists now know why. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. What's more, the scientists also found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect. This discovery was published in the March 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal.

"We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health," said Diederik Esser, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Top Institute Food and Nutrition and Wageningen University, Division of Human Nutrition in Wageningen, The Netherlands. "However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one."

To make this discovery, Esser and colleagues analyzed 44 middle-aged overweight men over two periods of four weeks as they consumed 70 grams of chocolate per day. Study participants received either specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content or chocolate that was regularly produced. Both chocolates had a similar cocoa mass content. Before and after both intervention periods, researchers performed a variety of measurements that are important indicators of vascular health. During the study, participants were advised to refrain from certain energy dense food products to prevent weight gain. Scientists also evaluated the sensory properties of the high flavanol chocolate and the regular chocolate and collected the motivation scores of the participants to eat these chocolates during the intervention.

"The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. 

Please note: 500 g (or half a kilo) is 1 pound or about 3 1/3 cups of whole strawberries. From Science Daily:

Strawberries lower cholesterol, study suggests

A team of volunteers ate half a kilo of strawberries a day for a month to see whether it altered their blood parameters in any way. At the end of this unusual treatment, their levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides reduced significantly, according to the analyses conducted by Italian and Spanish scientists.

Several studies had already demonstrated the antioxidant capacity of strawberries, but now researchers from the Università Politecnica delle Marche (UNIVPM, Italy), together with colleagues from the Universities of Salamanca, Granada and Seville (Spain), conducted an analysis that revealed that these fruits also help to reduce cholesterol.

The team set up an experiment in which they added 500 g of strawberries to the daily diets of 23 healthy volunteers over a month. They took blood samples before and after this period to compare data.

The results, which are published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, show that the total amount of cholesterol, the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or bad cholesterol) and the quantity of triglycerides fell to 8.78%, 13.72% and 20.8% respectively. The high-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) remained unchanged.

Eating strawberries also improved other parameters such as the general plasma lipid profile, antioxidant biomarkers (such as vitamin C or oxygen radical absorbance capacity), antihemolytic defences and platelet function. All parameters returned to their initial values 15 days after abandoning 'treatment' with strawberries.

The researcher admits that there is still no direct evidence about which compounds of this fruit are behind their beneficial effects, "but all the signs and epidemiological studies point towards anthocyanins, the vegetable pigments that afford them their red colour."

The research team confirmed in other studies that eating strawberries also protects against ultraviolet radiation, reduces the damage that alcohol can have on the gastric mucosa, strengthens erythrocytes, or red blood cells, and improves the antioxidant capacity of the blood.

Vegetarian diet lowers blood pressure without medications. From Medscape:

Vegetarian Diet Cuts Blood Pressure in Meta-Analysis

Eating a vegetarian diet is associated with reductions in blood pressure (BP) on par with adopting the DASH (low-sodium) diet, and roughly half that of starting pharmaceutical treatment, a new meta-analysis suggests .

"These findings establish the value of nonpharmacologic means for reducing BP," lead author on the study, Dr Yoko Yokoyama (National Cerebral and  Cardiovascular Center, Osaka, Japan). "Unlike drugs, there is no cost to a diet adjustment of this type, and all the 'side effects' of a plant-based diet are desirable: weight loss, lower cholesterol, and better blood sugar control, among others. I would encourage physicians to prescribe plant-based diets as a matter of routine and to rely on medications only when diet changes do not do the job."

Yokoyama et al's meta-analysis is published February 24, 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study is the latest to examine the health impact of a vegetarian-style eating pattern on cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The authors reviewed over 250 studies addressing vegetarian diets, ultimately including seven clinical trials (six of which were randomized) and 32 observational studies that included blood-pressure findings. Diets ranged from vegan to lacto-ovo vegetarian, with one study including fish, but no meat).

The authors found that reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were significantly greater for the vegetarian diets than for the comparator (omnivorous) diets, both in the pooled clinical trials and in the pooled observational studies, although drops were greater in the observational studies.

"This issue was examined by nearly 40 independent studies, some of which had hundreds or even thousands of participants, and the findings are strikingly consistent," Yokoyama said. "A vegetarian diet is clearly associated with lower blood pressure. Or, put another way, a meat-based diet is associated with higher blood pressure."

As with the DASH diet, the effect of switching to a vegetarian diet appears to be fairly rapid, and that's likely the result of two factors.

Two studies about food and health benefits.  From Science Daily:

Can citrus ward off your risk of stroke?

Eating foods that contain vitamin C may reduce your risk of the most common type of hemorrhagic stroke, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.

Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as oranges, papaya, peppers, broccoli and strawberries. Hemorrhagic stroke is less common than ischemic stroke, but is more often deadly.

The study involved 65 people who had experienced an intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke, or a blood vessel rupture inside the brain. They were compared to 65 healthy people. Participants were tested for the levels of vitamin C in their blood. Forty-one percent of cases had normal levels of vitamin C, 45 percent showed depleted levels of vitamin C and 14 percent were considered deficient of the vitamin.

On average, the people who had a stroke had depleted levels of vitamin C, while those who had not had a stroke had normal levels of the vitamin.

"Our results show that vitamin C deficiency should be considered a risk factor for this severe type of stroke, as were high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and being overweight in our study," said study author Stéphane Vannier, MD, with Pontchaillou University Hospital in Rennes, France. "More research is needed to explore specifically how vitamin C may help to reduce stroke risk. For example, the vitamin may regulate blood pressure."

From Science Daily:

Eat spinach or eggs for faster reflexes: Tyrosine helps you stop faster

A child suddenly runs out into the road. Brake!! A driver who has recently eaten spinach or eggs will stop faster, thanks to the amino acid tyrosine found in these and other food products. Leiden cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato publishes her findings in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Colzato and her colleagues created a situation in which test candidates had to interrupt a repetitive activity at a given instant. The participants had two sessions in the test lab. On one occasion they were given orange to drink that contained tyrosine, and on the other occasion the orange juice contained a placebo. The tests showed that the candidates performed better on the stopping task if they had drunk the juice with tyrosine.

The positive effect of tyrosine on our reaction speed can have benefits for road safety. But there are many more examples. Colzato: 'Tyrosine food supplements and tyrosine-rich food are a healthy and inexpensive way of improving our intellectual capabilities.

Tyrosine is found in such foods as spinach, eggs, cottage cheese and soya. 

From Science Daily:

Impact of repetitive heading in soccer needs more research, say experts

Soccer is the most-popular and fastest-growing sport in the world and, like many contact sports, players are at risk of suffering concussions from collisions on the field. But researchers warned in a paper published today that not enough attention has been given to the unique aspect of soccer -- the purposeful use of the head to control the ball -- and the long-term consequences of repetitive heading.

The literature review by Dr. Tom Schweizer, director of the Neuroscience Research Program of St. Michael's Hospital, was published in the journal Brain Injury.

More than 265 million people play soccer worldwide, including 27 million in North America. Due to the nature of the sport, players are particularly vulnerable to head and neck injuries. Most are caused by unintentional or unexpected contact, such as when a player collides with teammates, opponents or the playing surface.

There is significant concern in the sporting and medical worlds about the potential long-term cognitive and behavioral consequences for athletes who suffer acute or repeat concussions or multiple "sub-concussive" head impacts -- blows to the head not causing symptoms of concussions.

"The practice of heading, which might occur thousands of times over a player's career, carries unknown risks, but may uniquely contribute to cognitive decline or impairment in the short- or long-term," said Dr. Schweizer, a neuroscientist. "Thus, soccer players present a unique opportunity to study whether cumulative sub-concussive impacts affect cognitive functioning, similar to that of concussions."

Research papers that looked at the mechanism of injury found 41.1 per cent of concussions resulted from contact by an elbow, arm or hand to the head. One found that 58.3 per cent of concussions occurred during a heading duel. More females suffered concussions from player-to-surface and player-to-ball contact than males who had more player-to-player contact than females.

Studies on the long-term effects of heading found greater memory, planning and perceptual deficits in forwards and defenders, players who execute more headers. One study found professional players reporting the highest prevalence of heading during their careers did poorest in tests of verbal and visual memory as well as attention. Another found older or retired soccer players were significantly impaired in conceptual thinking, reaction time and concentration. The few studies that used advanced imaging techniques found physical changes to the brains in players who had concussions.

Children's brain development being harmed by chemicals in the environment - both before birth and in childhood -  is such an important topic that here are excerpts from two articles about the same report that was just released (in Lancet Neurology).  From Time:

Children Exposed to More Brain-Harming Chemicals Than Ever Before

In recent years, the prevalence of developmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia  have soared. While greater awareness and more sophisticated diagnoses are partly responsible for the rise, researchers say the changing environment in which youngsters grow up may also be playing a role.

In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.

Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.

But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent. The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Same report, from Science Daily: Growing number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children

"The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes," said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children, including:  - Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills  - Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior - Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

Grandjean and co-author Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai, also forecast that many more chemicals than the known dozen or so identified as neurotoxicants contribute to a "silent pandemic" of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies. But controlling this pandemic is difficult because of a scarcity of data to guide prevention and the huge amount of proof needed for government regulation. "Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity," they write.

The authors say it's crucial to control the use of these chemicals to protect children's brain development worldwide. They propose mandatory testing of industrial chemicals and the formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate industrial chemicals for potential developmental neurotoxicity.

A feel good article. From Science Daily:

Love is good for the heart, cardiologist says

With Valentine's Day just one day away, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D., says being involved in a healthy, loving relationship is good for the heart.  "There are different theories behind why that might be," Damp said.

A recent study from Finland showed that married men and women had a significantly lower risk of both having heart attacks and dying from a heart attack compared to people who were single.

There is also a theory that people who are in loving relationships may experience neuro-hormonal changes that have positive effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system," she said, explaining that there are certain hormone levels in the body that vary depending on the level of an individual's stress and anxiety.

Giving your loved one a box of dark chocolates and a bottle of red wine won't hurt either. Studies suggest they are good for the heart, as well.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.

"Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax," Damp said.

It appears most of us sit too much. From Science Daily:

Obese Americans get less than one minute of vigorous activity per day, research shows

Researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health have validated a new method for calculating physical activity, sedentary behavior, and the food energy requirements of Americans. The results suggest that as a nation, we spend more than 15 hours per day sleeping and sitting, and that obese men and women spend less than one minute per day in vigorous activity.

The study of the Physical Activity Ratio (PAR) protocol is significant because it provides the first nationally representative estimates of total daily energy expenditure, physical activity and sedentary behavior for the U.S. population.

Data sets for the study were obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006, a complex sample of the U.S. population conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and included adults age 20 to 74. The sample population was then divided into three Body Mass Index (BMI) categories: normal weight (18-25 kg/m2), overweight (25-29.9 kg/m2) and obese (30 kg/m2 or more) and took into account all factors contributing to energy expenditure, including sleep, and the digestion and metabolism of food.

The study found that the 1,272 men and 1,325 women that comprised the final sample exhibited key differences based on sex and BMI. Men were taller, heavier, and had greater resting energy expenditure than women. Men also spent more hours per day engaging in moderate and vigorous physical activity, and reported less sleep.

Not surprisingly, obese men and women were significantly less physically active and spent more time in sedentary behaviors than their normal weight counterparts. Obese men and women also reported less sleep and spent almost no time in more intense forms of physical activity. “Given that physical inactivity is now a leading cause of death and disability in the world, these data are essential in advancing the science of obesity and health,” Archer said.

The following two articles discuss exercise and healthy aging. The first discusses Olga Kotelko and Bruce Grierson (author of the book "What Makes Olga Run").  From the Feb. 10, 2014 New York Times:

Seeking the Keys to Longevity in ‘What Makes Olga Run?’

No one would mistake Olga Kotelko for one of the Olympians competing in Sochi, Russia, but at age 94, she holds more world records than most: 26, to be exact, including age-group bests in the high jump, the hammer throw and the 200-meter run. Not bad for someone who took up track and field at age 77.

The result is this jolly book, which follows the pair as they consult researchers in fields like gerontology, exercise physiology and genetics for insights into Ms. Kotelko’s remarkable youthfulness.

What they find are countless opinions, but little definitive proof. Genes, diet, temperament, the theories abound. (Mr. Grierson rules out performance-enhancing drugs.) Or maybe it’s the exercise itself.

Research on twins suggests that heredity accounts for only about 25 percent to 30 percent of longevity, so it is not enough simply to label Ms. Kotelko a “genetic freak.” Besides, tests show she lacks at least one gene associated with longevity, and it turns out that her telomeres, chromosome caps that shorten with age, are merely average in length.

As for her diet, it is abundant and promiscuous. Her staples include red meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese and sour milk, and she eats “immoderate amounts” of tapioca pudding. A centenarian friend of hers, the Australian shot-putter Ruth Frith, eschews vegetables altogether.

Among the potential anti-aging elixirs Mr. Grierson explores, exercise appears most potent. This old standby doesn’t just keep hearts pumping and muscles strong; studies suggest it may protect the mind too, by promoting the formation of neurons in the hippocampus — a part of the brain associated with memory.

Since she began her track and field career, Ms. Kotelko has rarely remained still, and that active lifestyle may be more important than her workouts at the track.

From the Feb. 7, 2014 Science Daily:

Exercise may slow progression of retinal degeneration

Moderate aerobic exercise helps to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after damage, according to an animal study appearing February 12 in The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest exercise may be able to slow the progression of retinal degenerative diseases.

Age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly, is caused by the death of light-sensing nerve cells in the retina called photoreceptors. Although several studies in animals and humans point to the protective effects of exercise in neurodegenerative diseases or injury, less is known about how exercise affects vision.

Machelle Pardue, PhD, together with her colleagues Eric Lawson and Jeffrey H. Boatright, PhD, at the Atlanta VA Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation and Emory University, ran mice on a treadmill for two weeks before and after exposing the animals to bright light that causes retinal degeneration. The researchers found that treadmill training preserved photoreceptors and retinal cell function in the mice.

From the Feb. 6, 2014 Science Daily:

Whole diet approach to lower cardiovascular risk has more evidence than low-fat diets

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.

This new study explains that while strictly low-fat diets have the ability to lower cholesterol, they are not as conclusive in reducing cardiac deaths. By analyzing major diet and heart disease studies conducted over the last several decades, investigators found that participants directed to adopt a whole diet approach instead of limiting fat intake had a greater reduction in cardiovascular death and non-fatal myocardial infarction.

"Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats," says study co-author James E. Dalen, MD, MPH, Weil Foundation, and University of Arizona College of Medicine. "These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths."

Carefully analyzing studies and trials from 1957 to the present, investigators found that the whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, are effective in preventing heart disease, even though they may not lower total serum or LDL cholesterol. The Mediterranean-style diet is low in animal products and saturated fat, and encourages intake of monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. In particular, the diet emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish.

"The potency of combining individual cardioprotective foods is substantial -- and perhaps even stronger than many of the medications and procedures that have been the focus of modern cardiology," explains co-author Stephen Devries, MD, FACC.

More evidence in support of Mediterranean style diet. From the Feb. 4, 2014 Science Daily:

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease among young U.S. workers

Among a large group of Midwestern firefighters, greater adherence to Mediterranean-style diet was associated with lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA). The study is the first to assess the effects of Mediterranean-style diet among a group of young, working U.S. adults.

The researchers analyzed medical and lifestyle data, including dietary habits, from an existing cohort of 780 male firefighters in the Midwest. They developed a modified Mediterranean diet score (mMDS) to assess the participants' dietary patterns.

The firefighter group with greatest adherence to Mediterranean-style diet showed a 35% decreased risk in metabolic syndrome, a condition with risk factors that include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, low HDL ("good") cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. The group with the highest mMDS also had a 43% lower risk of weight gain compared with the lowest mMDS group. Additionally, greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was significantly associated with higher HDL cholesterol and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Consistent with previous investigations, obese participants in the firefighter study reported a higher intake of both fast foods and sugary drinks.