Do compounds in chocolate reduce heart disease risk in women with diabetes?

There are certain things we know we must do to reduce the risk of heart disease. Eating chocolate every day for a year is not normally one of them.

However, in the first clinical trial of its kind, researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will be asking postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes to do just that.

So does this mean chocolate is now good for us? Not exactly.

Cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate, is a rich source of compounds called flavonoids, which have been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease. The process of making chocolate from cocoa destroys the majority of these compounds, however. Until now, that is.

With the help of a Belgian chocolatier, a specially formulated chocolate bar has been developed for this study. It will provide a higher dose of the protective compounds in cocoa than found in standard chocolate. To maximise the potential benefits of the chocolate bar, Soy has also been added. Soy is another great source of flavonoids, which have been shown to benefit the heart-health of women.

“Despite postmenopausal women being at a similar risk to men for developing cardiovascular disease, to date they are under-represented in clinical trials,” said Prof Aedin Cassidy, the lead researcher and Professor of Diet and Health at UEA.

“We hope to show that adding flavonoids to their diets will provide additional protection from heart disease and give women the opportunity to take more control over reducing their risk of heart disease in the future.”

Funded by Diabetes UK, the study is led by UEA and includes partners at the Elsie Bertram Diabetes Centre, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and the Institute of Food Research (IFR).

The theory behind the research is that adding flavonoids to the diet may give added protection against heart disease on top of that provided by prescription drugs. This is particularly important for the women who are the focus of this research, as deaths due to heart disease increase rapidly after the menopause and having type 2 diabetes increases this risk by a further three-and-a-half times.

As part of the study, participants will have their risk of heart disease tested on five occasions during the year to see whether change occurs. These tests will take place at UEA or the NNUH and travel expenses will be reimbursed.

“The hypothesis of this exciting study is that flavonoids, in this case compounds found in cocoa and soy, may improve the level of protection against heart disease over and above that provided by conventional drugs,” said Dr Ketan Dhatariya, one of the researchers and a consultant in diabetes at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“If the trial confirms this, it could have a far-reaching impact on the advice we give to postmenopausal women who have type 2 diabetes.”

Launching the study on Monday April 28, the researchers at UEA will be recruiting 150 women under the age of 70 who have type 2 diabetes and have not had a period for at least one year (and are not taking HRT). Volunteers also need to have been prescribed cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) for at least one year. Before starting the study, a screening visit will be arranged and the GP of the interested volunteers contacted for their approval. All the results of the screening visit will be forwarded to the participant’s GP.

To find out more or to volunteer, please telephone 01603 288570 and ask for Andrea Brown (study nurse) or Dr Peter Curtis (study co-ordinator) or email

Monday 28th of April 2008 01:00:41 AM