Ingredient in cocoa may guard against stroke: study

09:06, May 10, 2010      

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US researchers have identified an ingredient in cocoa which might guard against stroke.

The compound, a flavanol called epicatechin, triggers two built- in protective pathways in the brain, providing a molecular mechanism by which the compound can guard against the damage of a stroke, said researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The findings were published in the May issue of the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

A study of the cocoa-drinking Kuna Indians, living on islands off the coast of Panama, led the researchers to study epicatechin. As an unusually low incidence of stroke and other cardiovascular disease in that population could not be explained by genetic studies, consumption of a very bitter cocoa drink which contains epicatechin was considered a contributor.

Previous animal studies showed that something in dark chocolate seems to help protect the heart, raising the possibility that epicatechin may someday be used to treat strokes in humans, since its protective effect can be seen more than three hours after a stroke. Existing stroke treatments typically have a shorter window of activity.

While the cardioprotective effect of dark chocolate seen in several human studies appears to open the possibility that eating lots of chocolate is healthy, "I prefer to focus on cocoa," said lead researcher Sylvain Dore, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at the school.

"Cocoa is not like chocolate, which is high in saturated fat and calories. Cocoa can be part of a healthy diet, combined with fruits and vegetables."

The latest research looked at the mechanism of protection in mice who were induced to have strokes. "We gave different doses of epicatechin in mice 90 minutes before a stroke and found that it reduced infarct [stroke damage] size," Dore explained. "When we gave epicatechin after a stroke, it had a protective effect up to 3.5 hours later, but not after six hours."

Detailed studies showed that the flavanol activated two well- known pathways that shield nerve cells in the brain from damage, the Nrf2 and heme oxygenase pathways, Dore said. Epicatechin had no protective effect in mice bred to lack those pathways.

The possibility of using epicatechin to limit human stroke damage is distant, Dore said. "We have to be very careful," he said. "There are a lot of steps before going to human trials, potential risks and side effects. We need more work and more funding."

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王寒露)

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