Why dark chocolate is good for her heart

Listen up, men! On this Valentine’s Day, why not surprise your special lady with chocolates that are healthier for her heart? Dark chocolate eaten in moderate amounts weekly is associated with improved cardiovascular fitness in women, research suggests.

Scientists are only beginning to understand why dark chocolate is heart healthy, but a new study offers this explanation—its rich content of cocoa antioxidant compounds, called polyphenols, could enhance activity of special proteins called sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs), which are involved in cholesterol metabolism.

These activated SREBPs then bind to genes on DNA (sterol regulatory element sequences) that boost liver production of another protein called apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), which is the major protein component of HDL “good” cholesterol.

Correspondingly, cocoa polyphenols also decreased production of another protein in the liver called apolipoprotein B (ApoB), which is the major protein component of LDL “bad” cholesterol. The study also showed cocoa polyphenols induced activity of LDL receptors, allowing more cholesterol to be removed from the bloodstream.

The scientist’s findings—suggesting that polyphenols in dark chocolate may help maintain higher “good” cholesterol levels and lower “bad” cholesterol levels—were published in the February issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society.

The researchers write, “As cholesterol metabolism is known to be regulated by several different mechanisms, it is possible that cacao polyphenols may act on multiple pathways as a regulatory receptor agonist or ligand, similar to other plant polyphenols.”

So, what’s the message you give with dark chocolate? Romance, of course – but with a healthy twist for your sweetheart’s heart.

Source: Yasuda A, Natsume M, Osakabe N, Kawahata K, Koga J. Cacao Polyphenols Influence the Regulation of Apolipoprotein in HepG2 and Caco2 Cells. J Agric Food Chem 2011.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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