Study to test 'chocolate' pills for heart health

It won't be nearly as much fun as eating candy bars, but a big studyis being launched to see if pills containing the nutrients in darkchocolate can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The pills are so packed with nutrients that you'd have to eat agazillion candy bars to get the amount being tested in this study, whichwill enroll 18,000 men and women nationwide.

"People eat chocolate because they enjoy it," not because they thinkit's good for them, and the idea of the study is to see whether thereare health benefits from chocolate's ingredients minus the sugar andfat, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief atHarvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The study will be the first large test of cocoa flavanols, which inprevious smaller studies improved blood pressure, cholesterol, thebody's use of insulin, artery health and other heart-related factors.

A second part of the study will test multivitamins to help preventcancer. Earlier research suggested this benefit but involved just older,unusually healthy men. Researchers want to see if multivitamins lowercancer risk in a broader population.

The study will be sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and BloodInstitute and Mars Inc., maker of M&M's and Snickers bars. The candycompany has patented a way to extract flavanols from cocoa in highconcentration and put them in capsules. Mars and some other companiessell cocoa extract capsules, but with less active ingredient than thosethat will be tested in the study; candy contains even less.

"You're not going to get these protective flavanols in most of thecandy on the market. Cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by theprocessing," said Manson, who will lead the study with Howard Sesso atBrigham and others at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

See Also:Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements

Participants will get dummy pills or two capsules a day of cocoaflavanols for four years, and neither they nor the study leaders willknow who is taking what during the study. The flavanol capsules arecoated and have no taste, said Manson, who tried them herself.

In the other part of the study, participants will get dummy pills or daily multivitamins containing a broad range of nutrients.

Participants will be recruited from existing studies, which savesmoney and lets the study proceed much more quickly, Manson said,although some additional people with a strong interest in the researchmay be allowed to enroll. The women will come from the Women's HealthInitiative study, the long-running research project best known forshowing that menopause hormone pills might raise heart risks rather thanlower them as had long been thought. Men will be recruited from otherlarge studies.

Manson also is leading a government-funded study testing vitamin Dpills in 26,000 men and women. Results are expected in three years.

People love vitamin supplements but "it's important not to jump onthe bandwagon" and take pills before they are rigorously tested, shewarned.

"More is not necessarily better," and research has shown surprisingharm from some nutrients that once looked promising, she said.


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