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‘Viagra-like’ side effect of chocolates

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‘Viagra-like’ side effect of chocolates

Time was when we thought that eating chocolates could lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, obesity and other cardiovascular issues.

I’ve always loved chocolates since I was a small boy. My daily allowance then was only 10 centavos, and I would skip other snack food so I could buy instead a bar of ChocNut.

Our eldest brother, Manoy Greg, who stood as our surrogate father when we moved to Manila—with our father staying behind in Bicol working as a rural physician—was even stricter than Papa, and would reprimand me about my overindulgence in ChocNut.

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I cut down on it, but would still succumb to the temptation of its “sinful delight” every now and then.

When I was already a doctor, I still could not overcome my weakness for chocolates. At that time, chocolate was still getting bad press as a cause of obesity, diabetes, cholesterol problems and hypertension, without any really hard scientific data to prove it.

I just rationalized then that, anyway, I didn’t smoke, I drank wine in strict moderation, I ate basically a plant-based diet, and I lived an active and generally healthy lifestyle, so a little sinful indulgence in chocolates couldn’t be that bad. At most, it was a venial and not a mortal sin, I thought.

Learning of my weakness for chocolates, my patients would bring me, as gift or pasalubong when they went abroad, a big bar or two of premium chocolate brands. Of course, I didn’t consume the whole bar in one sitting. I would reward myself with a small piece each night as I prepared to go to bed.

I’m delighted that my guilt over chocolate indulgence is now a thing of the past. Over the last 15 years, scientific research has vindicated chocolates from the bad reviews they used to get.

Moderate indulgence

The key words, though, are “moderate indulgence.”

A diabetes expert who was in town recently affirmed during the discussion that moderate indulgence in chocolates can even prevent diabetes and heart disease.

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An expert on hypertension I met this week at a conference in Milan, Italy, also told me that his initial results of a study on the effect of chocolates in patients with high blood pressure are also encouraging.

There are now several studies showing it can improve endothelial function, which refers to the important function of the arteries in the body to ward off the atherosclerotic process. Atherosclerosis slowly but progressively clogs the arteries.

This benefit of chocolates is attributed to the high content of polyphenols present in cocoa products. Polyphenols are substances that can enhance the body’s production of nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels and enhances the integrity of the arteries. By doing so, the progressive narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, is markedly slowed down.

As a bonus side effect for males, increased levels of nitric oxide can be an antidote for erectile or sexual dysfunction. We might call it a “Viagra-like” side effect. This is one side effect most males won’t mind experiencing.

Erectile dysfunction is now believed to be a form of cardiovascular disease, because both are caused by a similar problem in the blood vessels, and that is endothelial dysfunction.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, British investigators reported that chocolate lovers had a 37 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent lower risk of stroke compared with individuals who rarely ate chocolate.

In this pooled analysis (meta-analysis) of seven studies, overall chocolate consumption was recorded and analyzed without distinguishing between dark, milk or white chocolate. Chocolate in any form was included. Asians were included in one of the studies in the meta-analysis.

Overall, the pooled analysis found that moderate levels of chocolate consumption, compared with the lowest levels of chocolate consumption, reduced the risk of any cardiovascular disease by 37 percent and stroke by 29 percent.

There was also no association noted between chocolate consumption and the risk of heart failure, which was a previous concern. No risk of developing diabetes, particularly in women, was observed.

So, the long-term benefit of chocolates is that it can reduce heart disease and stroke, and possibly erectile dysfunction in men.

But just like anything good in life, if taken in excess, the effects may no longer be favorable. So, again, the key word is moderation.

Abstaining from chocolates completely is not really scientifically founded. Counterintuitive as it may sound, there’s now an emerging consensus among experts that regular consumption of moderate amounts of chocolates is actually healthy.

A big bar of chocolate is usually divided into small squares. I believe we can safely say that eating a square or two of chocolate a day keeps the doctor away.

A word of caution, though: eating a whole bar daily may keep the doctor busy treating an overweight problem.

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TAGS: Chocolates, Health
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