Can chocolate reduce the damaging effects of smoking?

As a chocolate lover, I’m always happy to learn about new findings touting the positive health benefits of the antioxidant-rich cocoa bean. That’s why research presented this week at the American Chemical Society annual meeting caught my attention.

A small study from the University of Rome compared smokers to non-smokers and found that within two hours of eating 40g of dark chocolate– that’s about one bar – the dark chocolate inhibited platelet function by lowering oxidative stress only in smokers.

Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance where the body over produces reactive oxygen and impairs the body’s antioxidant defenses. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute oxidative stress and inflammation have been linked to a number of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders, including atherosclerosis, hypertension, asthma, COPD and sleep apnea.

The findings are fascinating, but Thomas J. Glynn, Ph.D., director of cancer science and trends and international cancer control for the American Cancer Society, explains that chocolate should not be used as a substitute for quitting smoking.

“The authors establish the biological plausibility of antioxidant effects of dark chocolate in a small cohort of smokers and demonstrate the potential harm-reducing effects for smokers of eating dark chocolate.”

“While the potential benefits of eating dark chocolate are intriguing, considerably more research is needed to establish any benefits it may have. Stopping, or not starting, to smoke – a habit which kills 443,000 Americans EVERY year – remains the single most important preventive health action that one can take.”

The most recent version of the The Tobacco Atlas, unveiled last week by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation, finds that if global trends continue one billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure during the 21st century – that’s one person every six seconds.

As for the chocolate effect, Glynn says dark chocolate in particular is “currently riding a wave of positive health publicity – it has been implicated in reducing heart disease, hardening tooth enamel, and protecting against diabetes, among other potential benefits.”

However, he also says, interpreting the results of studies on the potential health benefits of dark chocolate should be done with “great caution.”

 “None of the evidence to date is definitive and is based on small studies with limited time duration. No one, despite the enjoyment in eating dark chocolate, should consider using it as a substitute for healthy eating, getting exercise, and, above all, stopping smoking.”

Quitting tobacco is not easy, but it can be done. Visit cancer.org for tools and resources to help you kick the habit.

About Sabriya Rice

Director of Media Relations for the American Cancer Society, former CNN Health Writer & Empowered Patient Producer, Blue Zones Longevity Explorer. Twitter: @sabriyarice
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