Dark chocolate can prevent stroke damage

July 8, 2010 | Research, UToday
By Meghan Cunningham

You should eat more chocolate. Really. But it has to be the dark kind.

Dr. Zahoor Shah is conducting research on the preventative nature of Ginkgo biloba on stroke damage.

Dr. Zahoor Shah is conducting research on the preventative nature of Ginkgo biloba on stroke damage.

A few bites of dark chocolate a day can help prevent extensive brain injury from a stroke, according to research by Dr. Zahoor Shah, UT assistant professor of medicinal and biological chemistry.

“It doesn’t give you a license to each chocolate all day, every day,” he said. “But chocolate can be good for you.”

Before coming to UT, Shah was a member of a research team at Johns Hopkins University that studied the effects of epicatechin, found abundantly in cocoa, both before and after a stroke. Their study recently was published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

The researchers gave mice a small amount of epicatechin, a polyphenol antioxidant, 1.5 hours before a stroke was induced and 3.5 hours after a stroke. In both cases, the neurological defects were less pronounced in the mice that had digested the epicatechin than in the mice in the control group.

And not only did the mice that “ate” epicatechin have better mobility and function, but there was a lower mortality rate. In fact, none of the mice that received it after the stroke died, Shah said.

Strokes are the aggregation of blood cells and clots that block the blood flow, and the dark chocolate works to combat that by helping dissolve platelets, lower blood pressure and enhance blood flow, he said.

Other studies have shown that epicatechin, which also is found in green tea and grapes but more abundantly in cocoa, has positive effects on people with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other conditions, Shah said.

It’s important that it is the dark chocolate, because milk chocolate and other forms have sugars and other ingredients added to them that make them sweeter but reduce the health benefits.

“The rule: The more bitter the chocolate, the healthier it is,” Shah said. “If you have a dark chocolate bar, I would say eat three squares or bites a day. That’s what I do and I hide the rest so I don’t eat more. I started on a chocolate regime after this research because I really believe in its benefits.”

Shah said he enjoys conducting research on the healthy effects of things found in nature and is embarking on a similar study to investigate the preventative nature of Ginkgo biloba on stroke damage.

“These are natural products that don’t have side effects,” he said. “My interest is to see what these natural products have to offer us and the ways we can take advantage.”

UT College of Pharmacy Dean Dr. Johnnie Early II said it is unique research from quality faculty members like Shah that helps the college maintain its reputation as a leader in the discipline.

“Shah’s research is not only advancing scientific knowledge, but he is finding ways to help people lead healthier lives and that is the goal of all of us who work in health care,” Early said.

Click here to read the article on Shah’s research in Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

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