A nutrient in cocoa called epicatechin appears to lower the risk of four common killer diseases, work suggests.
Among the Kuna people of Panama, who can drink up to 40 cups of cocoa per week, rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are less than 10%.
The Kuna also appear to live longer than other Panama inhabitants and do not get dementia, a US scientist reports in Chemistry and Industry.
Dr Norman Hollenberg, of Harvard Medical School, says the cocoa chemical would benefit other populations too, including the Western world, although he concedes there may be ethnic differences.
He has been investigating the effects of epicatechin in hundreds of elderly people from different cultures as well as hundreds of Kuna people over the last 15 years.
“My interest began with the fact that Kuna people do not develop high blood pressure,” he explained.
“I was in search of protective genes but it turned out to be environmental because, when they migrated to the mainland with all the benefits of modern Western urban life, their blood pressure rose with age and hypertension became quite common.”
And death rates from ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus and cancer followed suit, his published work in the International Journal of Medical Sciences showed.
Dr Hollenberg believes the Kuna’s local tipple is the key.
“For most Kuna people, it is the only thing they drink from when they are weaned to the day they die.”
He says his findings are so significant that epicatechin should be considered essential in the diet and, therefore, classed as a vitamin.
Vitamin Choc? I’ll drink to that…and eat to that, too.
The article goes on to note that the nutrient is also present in wine, tea, and certain fruits and vegetables. Bitter chocolate is likely to be the best source of it, however, since it is often removed from the sweet, candy kind.
One more reason for Chavecito to restore endogenous cocoa production in Venezuela, as if he ever needed it.