Tuesday, December 20, 2005—Just in time for the candy-clogged holidays, a new Swiss study finds a little dark chocolate each day could slow hardening of the arteries in smokers.

Chocolate is still no substitute for quitting smoking, of course, and the researchers add that the findings are not an excuse to binge on fattening sweets.

However, the results do “provide new important information about the potential beneficial effects of cocoa,” said study author Dr. Roberto Corti, from the University Hospital in Zurich.

His team assigned 20 male smokers to either eat about 1.5 ounces of white chocolate or dark, then evaluated the effects of each on blood flow and other parameters. Before the men ate the chocolate, they were instructed to abstain for a full day from other foods that are rich in the same antioxidants found in cocoa. Those foods include apples, other cocoa products and onions.

Then researchers then subjected the smokers to ultrasound scans and blood tests.

Two hours after the men finished eating the dark chocolate, the scans showed improved smoothness of the blood flow through the arteries -- an effect that lasted eight hours, according to the report published in the January issue of Heart.

The dark chocolate also halved blood platelet activity, which in turn decreased the risk of blood clots. Antioxidant levels in the blood also rose among those who ate dark chocolate.

White chocolate did not have those effects, however.

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