Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chocolate consumption as a medical treatment

Several studies have pointed out that consumption of dark chocolate can induce health benefits. A large data analysis revealed that it can reduce cardiovascular disease, while another study showed that it functions by restoring 'energy factories' inside our cells. Researchers at the Monash University in Australia asked themselves whether chocolate could be used as an actual medical treatment to prevent a heart attack or stroke, and found that this would indeed be cost-effective. Therefore it may be that doctors will be ordering their patients to eat chocolate in the near future.

By analysing a little over 2000 people that are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, for example due to high blood pressure, the scientists developed a mathematical model that allowed them to calculate costs versus efficacy. The data for the effect of chocolate on cardiovascular health was derived from previous studies, such as the one mentioned above.

Calculations revealed that 31 euros, or 42 dollars, could be cost-effectively spent each year for every individual that is at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Though handing out chocolate as a prophylaxis costs money, it can prevent a number of heart attacks and strokes, which otherwise would have cost money to treat. According to the scientists, dark chocolate consumption can prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10.000 people treated over 10 years. That means eating dark chocolate in a high-risk group of that size keeps 85 people out of the hospital, of which 15 would have died.

While 31 euros or 42 dollars per person per year does not seem like much money it does add up if you realise that a lot of people are at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, and that it is currently one of the biggest killers worldwide. The money could be spent on subsidizing dark chocolate or spreading awareness. It is interesting to see that such a popular snack can actually be considered medically relevant, although this cannot be said for all types of chocolate: it needs to contain at least 60-70 percent cacao before being beneficial, probably because it contains a lot of flavonoids that are likely to be the underlying cause for the aforementioned health effects.

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