Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, Italian researcher report that consumption of dark chocolate containing 860 milligrams of polyphenols, and 58 milligrams of epicatechin, led to a 20 per cent reduction in DNA damage two hours after consumption.
The study adds to an ever growing body of science supporting the cardiovascular benefits of polyphenol-rich chocolate.
Led by Angela Spadafranca from the University of Milan and using chocolate supplied by Ferraro, the researchers assigned 20 healthy subjects with an average age of 24.2 to consume a balanced diet for four weeks. After two weeks the group was split in two, with one group receiving additional dark chocolate, while the other receiving white chocolate.
Measurements taken at regular intervals after consumption showed that the benefits were observed relatively quickly, with increases in blood levels of catechin observed two hours after consumption of the dark chocolate, with coincidental decreases in DNA damage in mononuclear blood cells.
However, the effects were not observed 22 hours after consumption, leading the researchers to speculate that this was related to the kinetics of the flavonoids.
"Similar epicatechin plasma levels at two hours following consumption of cark chocolate on the first and last occasions are not associated with a long-term increase in epicatechin plasma concentrations, and suggest that flavonoid plasma levels are dependent upon intake from recent food sources," wrote the researchers.
“The present results are clinically encouraging especially in the field of the diet therapy of obesity, pathology related to greater incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer,” they wrote.
“In fact, dark chocolate, habitually excluded by hypoenergetic diets for its high-fat and energy content, is a sweet food that should be reconsidered: if included in controlled amounts, in a weight loss programme it could have healthy effects, and could improve the compliance of patients to diet therapy,” added Spadafranca and her co-workers.
A tasty market
Chocolate is big business. Market researcher, Euromonitor, puts the market at $100bn and notes the rise of dark and premium chocolate that is boosting the category but remains at little more than a few per cent with the bulk of the growth coming from North America and Asia.
Euromonitor estimates the global market for functional chocolate at $371.9m in 2009, growing to $460.3m in 2012. In 2002 it was worth only $141.5m.
In 2009 the bulk of sales are coming from the Asia Pacific at $175m, followed by North America at $93.8m and western Europe at $95.9m.
But North America is expected to overtake next year and will be worth $128.2m in 2012, compared to near-stagnant western Europe at $103.2m. The Asia Pacific will be worth $221.2m by then.
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, First View article, doi: 10.1017/S0007114509992698
“Effect of dark chocolate on plasma epicatechin levels DNA resistance to oxidative stress and total antioxidant activity in healthy subjects”
Authors: A. Spadafranca, C. Martinez Conesa, S. Sirini and G. Testolin