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Good for the heart, way tastier than aspirin

Times Staff Writer

This should get your blood flowing.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that chocolate thins blood and protects the heart in the same way aspirin does. The keys are compounds in chocolate called flavonoids, which slow down platelet clumping that can block off blood vessels and lead to a heart attack or stroke.

You have to eat at least a couple of tablespoons of dark chocolate a day to see some benefit -- and it’s still not as effective as a single baby aspirin, which is usually prescribed to heart patients.

Matching aspirin would require eating several bars of chocolate a day, which could lead to other problems, such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

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“I would never tell people to go ahead and eat chocolate, because chocolate travels with a lot of friends, like fat and sugar,” said epidemiologist Diane Becker, who led the study -- one of the largest to look at how chocolate protects the heart.

Becker’s finding, presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Assn. in Chicago, came about because chocoholics just couldn’t stay away from their addiction.

Her study of 1,535 people, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, was intended to look at how aspirin affected blood platelets. Subjects were instructed to stay away from chocolate, tea, strawberries and red wine.

But 139 people confessed to snacking on chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate ice cream and other chocolate products.

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Becker analyzed the cheaters’ urine and found less thromboxane, a compound that indicates blood clotting. Blood analysis also showed slower clotting.

“It’s a modest effect,” said Dr. Karol Watson, a UCLA cardiologist who was not part of the study. “But it’s nice to say, ‘You can’t have that steak, but you can have chocolate afterward.’ ”

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com


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