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Chocolate And Stroke Risk Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background photo: Pixabay (PD)
A bite of chocolate a day could help keep the doctor away. Yes, that’s right! Some studies suggest that savoring a bar of dark chocolate could reduce your risk of stroke and improve your health.
Chocolate often carries a bad reputation—with people associating indulgence in the treat with weight gain and other negative health effects. The truth is that it’s the sugar that is questionable – but the cacao itself is a very healthful ingredient.
According to a video by Dr. Michael Greger—a physician, New York Times bestselling author, internationally recognized nutrition speaker, and founder of NutritionFacts.org —chocolate may be good for your health depending on the type and quantity you consume. In this article, we build on his suggestions and break down the research on chocolate and its association with stroke risk.
Facts About Stroke
Did you know that someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, with one dying every 3.5 minutes?  A stroke occurs when brain tissue is damaged from an interruption of its blood supply due to a blockage or ruptured vessels. While the symptoms of a stroke may vary depending on the region of the brain that is affected, common signs can be identified with the acronym F.A.S.T!  (face – arm – speech – time)
Facial Dropping: One side of the face may be numb or weak. This can be identified by an uneven smile.
Arm Weakness: One arm may drift downward when both are raised.
Speech Difficulties: Slurred speech, confusion, and trouble understanding speech.
One or more of these symptoms means it’s time to call 911 or local emergency services ASAP. Every minute counts during a stroke. A quick response can reduce brain damage and perhaps save a life.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute identifies high blood pressure, diabetes, high LDL cholesterol, infections that cause inflammation, smoking, inactivity, obesity, high stress levels, age, ethnicity, sex, genetics, and heart diseases as possible risk factors for stroke. 
While some risk factors, such as genetics and age, may be beyond your control, lifestyle changes can lower your risk of stroke—and adding chocolate to your diet might be one of them.
Does Chocolate Reduce Your Risk Of Stroke?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the unique and rich taste of chocolate. Things only get tricky when it comes to the impact of this beloved treat on your health.
While some people shun chocolate, arguing that its health risks overshadow any culinary benefits, some studies make a case for the popular treat. One such study published in the journal Neurology concludes that “moderate chocolate consumption may lower the risk of stroke.” 
Researchers affiliated with the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Sweden conducted a meta-analysis where they followed 37,103 men for around 10 years. Their findings showed that respondents who ate the most chocolate had the lowest risk of stroke. 
Another 2015 study appearing in the journal Heart tracked the diet habits of 20,951 men and women for nearly 20 years. The study examined the association between habitual chocolate intake and cardiovascular disease risk. Participants with low consumption of chocolate reported the highest stroke rate, with those who ate chocolate the most reporting lower rates.
While these studies suggest that eating chocolate may reduce your risk of stroke, it’s important to point out that the findings are observational. It’s simply a correlation between outcomes and risk factors—not a cause-and-effect relationship.
So, “Does chocolate reduce your risk of stroke?” It might! Research suggests that chocolate may protect against stroke by helping mitigate its risk factors, as highlighted below:
Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress is believed to play a role in the risk of stroke.  And according to a study published in The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, dark chocolate made with cacao may offer benefits against oxidative stress, aging, and blood pressure regulation.  This may be due to its concentration of phytonutrients known as flavonoids, which are believed to have potent antioxidant properties.
Chocolate May Prevent Blood Clots: A study appearing in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that polyphenols in dark chocolate (and not milk chocolate) help increase blood flow and widen blood vessels.  This may reduce the risk of blood clots—a major stroke risk factor. In fact, another study on the effects of cocoa products on cognitive performance reported that cocoa intake was accompanied by an “increase in cerebral blood flow or cerebral blood oxygenation.” 
Heart Health: The flavonoids contained in dark chocolate are believed to offer several cardiovascular benefits—including reducing the risk of coronary artery disease.  These compounds help produce nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure.  Other studies further show that consuming dark chocolate may significantly reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and improve insulin sensitivity—both important risk factors for disease. 
Precautions When Consuming Chocolate
There is considerable scientific research to suggest that cocoa products like dark chocolate may provide powerful health benefits, including reducing stroke risk. But this is NOT a green light to stuff yourself with chocolate every day.
Chocolate can have a high-calorie count due to its fat and sugar content. Overindulging in the treat may have negative effects on your health. The key is moderation.
It’s also important to note that not all chocolate you see on store shelves is nutritious. Most health benefits associated with chocolate are related to its cocoa content. So it may be best to choose dark chocolate made from the cocoa plant, not processed products made with artificial flavors and coloring to resemble chocolate.
Always read the label and pick products with the highest concentration of cocoa and minimal additives. And even then, enjoy your chocolate in moderation.
Topic: Chocolate and Stroke Risk
Who? Michael Greger M.D. FACLM (NutritionFact.org)
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm
 American Stroke Association: https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/stroke-symptoms
 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/stroke/causes
 Larsson, S. C., Virtamo, J., & Wolk, A. (2012). Chocolate consumption and risk of stroke: a prospective cohort of men and meta-analysis. Neurology, 79(12), 1223-1229: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22933736/
 Kwok, C. S., Boekholdt, S. M., Lentjes, M. A., Loke, Y. K., Luben, R. N., Yeong, J. K., … & Khaw, K. T. (2015). Habitual chocolate consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men and women. Heart, 101(16), 1279-1287: https://heart.bmj.com/content/101/16/1279
 Menon, B., Ramalingam, K., & Kumar, R. (2020). Evaluating the role of oxidative stress in acute ischemic stroke. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, 11(01), 156-159: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7055613/
 Allen, C. L., & Bayraktutan, U. (2009). Oxidative stress and its role in the pathogenesis of ischaemic stroke. International journal of stroke, 4(6), 461-470: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19930058/
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 Loffredo, L., Perri, L., Catasca, E., Pignatelli, P., Brancorsini, M., Nocella, C., … & Violi, F. (2014). Dark chocolate acutely improves walking autonomy in patients with peripheral artery disease. Journal of the American Heart Association, 3(4), e001072: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/jaha.114.001072
 Martín, M. A., Goya, L., & de Pascual-Teresa, S. (2020). Effect of cocoa and cocoa products on cognitive performance in young adults. Nutrients, 12(12), 3691: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7760676/
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 Alkerwi, A. A., Sauvageot, N., Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., & Stranges, S. (2016). Daily chocolate consumption is inversely associated with insulin resistance and liver enzymes in the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg study. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(9), 1661-1668: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26983749/
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