Health benefits of wine and chocolate unlikely, new study finds – May 13, 2014 Globe and Mail (but note 2017 Cochrane Collective update)

I was interested to come across a May 13, 2014 Reuters news report, published in The Globe and Mail, and CBC radio reports about recent research findings related to wine and chocolate.
The opening paragraphs of the Reuters article read:

  • A compound found in wine and chocolate may not be linked to improved health as was once claimed, according to a new study.
  • The compound resveratrol was not associated with less inflammation, cardiovascular disease or cancer or with increased longevity among a group of elderly Italians, researchers found.

[End of excerpt]

“The French Paradox”

A May 12, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Red wine antioxidants don’t improve heart health: Health benefits of red wine don’t pan out.”

The opening paragraphs read:

  • You might not be able to pass off the daily glass of red-wine as good for your heart anymore.
  • After years of believing the “The French Paradox,” – the high cholesterol diet but low heart disease phenomenon in the French that was attributed to red wine intake, a study released at John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore today showed no correlation between red wine and the incidence of heart disease, cancer and inflammation.

[End of excerpt]

The power of habit

I’ve enjoyed having a glass of red wine – such as Trius Cabernet Sauvignon with the twist-off cap – on alternating days for many years. I’ve also enjoyed eating dark chocolate, such as Camino Fair Trade Organic 70% cacao dark chocolate.

As regular habits, it’s something that I’ll be able to look back on fondly. Coffee – brewed at home from freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee beans – along with green tea, will remain among my favourite sources of diversion.

Getting sugar consumption below 25 grams per day hasn’t been a struggle, in my case, now that I’m aware of the research. Increasing the quantity of vegetables has seen some progress. Fish oil supplements I stopped taking years ago, as the research accumulated. The exercise part of the equation I’ve always been pretty good at. I also ensure I don’t spend all day sitting.

Evidence

What accounts for my interest in evidence-based practice? Different people come across a data-oriented approach to life for different reasons. Some never develop an interest in data and pursue truthiness instead. In my case, I spent many years looking for a way to deal with the fact that I stuttered. I finally found a speech therapy program – at a three-week speech clinic in Edmonton in 1987 – that worked for me. In the process, I learned of the value of scientific data, and of research reports published in peer-reviewed professional journals. Unless there’s solid, published evidence, I’m not interested.

Other people approach their particular challenges, if they have them, in their own way, whatever that way might be.

I mention this story because it accounts for my focus on the relevance and salience of evidence. I doubt I would have become interested in “looking at the data” had I not had the experiences, in the late 1980s, that I have described.

Updates: Chocolate and memory, and the origins of the enjoyment of alcohol

An Oct. 16, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate.”

The opening paragraphs read:

  • Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.
  • In a small study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, healthy people, ages 50 to 69, who drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months performed better on a memory test than people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.
  • On average, the improvement of high-flavanol drinkers meant they performed like people two to three decades younger on the study’s memory task, said Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s senior author. They performed about 25 percent better than the low-flavanol group.

[End of excerpt]

A Dec. 13, 2013 CBC article is entitled: “Human taste for alcohol linked to apes eating rotten fruit: Apes eating fermented fruit led to our taste for alcohol, says Matthew Carrigan.”

As well, here’s a previous post that may be of interest:

The Importance of an Occupation after Retirement!

Update regarding above-noted New York Times article. That’s the one that says: “To improve a memory, consider chocolate.”

A Jan. 5, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Chocolate health myth dissolves: Health-enhancing flavanols that end up on the shelf will likely appear in form other than chocolate.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“When the New York Times ran this headline last fall, “To improve a memory, consider chocolate,” it quickly became one of the newspaper’s “most emailed” stories. Other news outlets rushed to match the story.

“My assignment desk perked up and sent me the clipping with the question ‘interesting?’ And it was interesting, but not for the reasons most news editors hope.

“It was interesting because the study was not about chocolate at all. That’s because chocolate contains almost none of the compound that the researchers are studying.

“It’s an irony that lies at the heart of a major international scientific effort to find something healthy in the cocoa bean, an effort largely sponsored by the chocolate industry.”

[End of excerpt]

Another CBC article on same topic (that is, checking the facts behind health claims related to chocolate)

Another Jan. 5, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Chocolate’s health touters ‘may have misunderstood local reality’ of tribe: How much cocoa do Kuna really consume?”

An excerpt reads:

“Because his observations of Kuna cocoa consumption were so starkly different, Barnes thought he had missed something and went back to Panama, to the same island where the Mars research was done, for a closer look.

“I looked into how much locally grown cacao people were actually consuming and the results were quite outstanding,” Barnes said. ‘It would appear as though they are not consuming much at all.’

“‘Recent studies may have misunderstood the local reality in their depictions of the Kuna people of Ailigandi as prolific consumers of locally derived cacao,’ he concluded in a paper published in 2013 in Human Organization, the peer reviewed journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology.

“The response to his myth-busting findings? Complete silence.

“‘The media is always plastered with news about how healthy chocolate is for you,” he said. “I was dismayed to find that no one picked it up.'”

[End of excerpt]

Updates

A Jan. 8, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Dr. Oz, The Doctors’ TV advice not always supported by evidence: Review of shows by Alberta doctors concludes people need to be skeptical.”

A Jan. 31, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Jason Dyck, University of Alberta researcher, reveals truth behind wine study: Researcher confirms not everything you read on the Internet is true.”

A March 29, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “The vitamin D dilemma: How much should we be taking?”

An August 1, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required).” The article notes: Not a lot of dairy products.

A Feb. 3, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Most Canadians enjoy a tipple, but many don’t know health risks: top doctor: Alcohol consumption is related to more than 4,000 deaths each year.”

Also on the topic of evidence, a March 21, 2016 Quartz article is entitled: “There’s not enough evidence to say standing desks are good for your health.”

A July 27, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “One hour of activity needed to offset harmful effects of sitting at a desk: Risk of dying increases among desk-based workers who sit for eight hours and do low amounts of exercise, new research finds.”

1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    An April 25, 2017 Cochrane Collective article is entitled: “Effect of cocoa on blood pressure.”

    An excerpt reads:

    We assessed the effect of cocoa products on blood pressure in adults when consumed daily for at least two weeks. We found 35 studies, covering 40 treatment comparisons.

    Background

    Dark chocolate and cocoa products are rich in chemical compounds called flavanols. Flavanols have attracted interest as they might help to reduce blood pressure, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease (disorders of the heart and blood vessels). The blood pressure-lowering properties of flavanols are thought to be related to widening of the blood vessels, caused by nitric oxide.

    Study characteristics

    Studies were short, mostly between two and12 weeks, with only one of 18 weeks. The studies involved 1804 mainly healthy adults. They provided participants with 30 to 1218 mg of flavanols (average of 670 mg) in 1.4 to 105 grams of cocoa products per day in the active intervention group. Seven of the studies were funded by companies with a commercial interest in their results, and the reported effect was slightly larger in these studies, indicating possible bias. The evidence is current to November 2016.

    Key results

    Meta-analysis of 40 treatment comparisons revealed a small but statistically significant lowering of blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) of 1.8 mmHg. This small reduction in blood pressure might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

    We investigated whether participants’ blood pressure at the start of the study, their age, an awareness of group allocation (active or control), the flavanol content used in the control group, or how long the study lasted may explain variations between trials. While blood pressure status (high blood pressure or normal blood pressure) is a likely factor in the effect size of cocoa on blood pressure, the impact of other factors needs to be confirmed or rejected in further trials.

    Side effects including digestive complaints and dislike of the trial product were reported by only 1% of people in the active cocoa intervention group and 0.4% of people in the control groups.

    Longer-term trials are needed to establish whether regularly eating flavanol-rich cocoa products has a beneficial effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health over time, and whether there are any side effects of long-term use of cocoa products on a daily basis.

    Quality of evidence

    The evidence is of moderate quality. We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials that tested the effect of long-term daily use of cocoa products on blood pressure, and there were no trials that measured the health consequences of high blood pressure, such as heart attacks or strokes.

    Authors’ conclusions:

    This review provides moderate-quality evidence that flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products cause a small (2 mmHg) blood pressure-lowering effect in mainly healthy adults in the short term.

    These findings are limited by the heterogeneity between trials, which could not be explained by prespecified subgroup analyses, including blinding, flavanol content of the control groups, age of participants, or study duration. However, baseline blood pressure may play a role in the effect of cocoa on blood pressure; subgroup analysis of trials with (pre)hypertensive participants revealed a greater blood pressure-reducing effect of cocoa compared to normotensive participants with borderline significance.

    Long-term trials investigating the effect of cocoa on clinical outcomes are also needed to assess whether cocoa has an effect on cardiovascular events and to assess potential adverse effects associated with chronic ingestion of cocoa products.

    Read the full abstract…

    Reply

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