50+ health * Healthy living

Dark chocolate may lower stroke risk

Zone default image May also reduce stroke brain damage

A compound found in dark chocolate may protect the brain from damage after a stroke, new research suggests.

US scientists have discovered that a naturally occurring compound found in chocolate, called epicatechin, can help shield nerve cells from damage following a stroke.

The researchers from John Hopkins University fed a single dose of epicatechin and induced the animals to have a stroke 90 minutes later by cutting off the blood supply to their brains.

Animals given the epicatechin suffered significantly less brain damage than others that had not been given the compound.

In humans, most treatments for stroke need to be given two to three hours after the event to be effective. However, the scientists found that epicatechin appeared to limit further brain damage even after 3.5 hours after the mice had a stroke.

Professor Sylvain Doré, who led the study, said people shouldn't regard the research as a free pass to go out and eat large amounts of chocolate, which is high in calories and fat.

People should be reminded to eat a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, he added.

Professor Doré said he hopes the research could lead to a better understanding into limiting acute stroke damage and possibly protecting against chronic neurological degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and other age-related cognitive disorders.

"Epicatechin itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly, but instead, epicatechin, and its metabolites, may be prompting the cells to defend themselves.

"The epicatechin is needed to jump-start the protective pathway that is already present within the cells. Even a small amount may be sufficient," he added

The study is published online in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism.

This article was published on Fri 7 May 2010

Image © David Wagner - Fotolia.com

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