September 24/Washington/Hindustan Times-- Chocolate has been linked to many health benefits, and now, a group of scientists has given chocoholics another reason to savor their favorite sweet by suggesting that dark chocolate prevents heart disease.

The Italian study, the first outcome of a large epidemiological investigation, has found new beneficial effects of chocolate in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

According to the researchers, 6.7g of chocolate per day represent the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and subsequent cardiovascular disease.

The population study was conducted by the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute of Milan.

The findings, published in the last issue of the Journal of Nutrition, official journal of the American Society of Nutrition, come from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted in Europe, the Molisani Project, which has enrolled 20,000 inhabitants of the Molise region so far.

By studying the participants recruited, researchers focused on the complex mechanism of inflammation. It is known how a chronic inflammatory state represents a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease, from myocardial infarction to stroke, just to mention the major diseases.

Keeping the inflammation process under control has become a major issue for prevention programs and C reactive protein turned out to be one of the most promising markers, detectable by a simple blood test.

The Italian team related the levels of this protein in the blood of examined people with their usual chocolate intake.

Out of 11,000, researchers identified 4,849 subjects in good health and free of risk factors (normal cholesterol, blood pressure and other parameters). Among them, 1,317 did not use to eat any chocolate, while 824 used to have chocolate regularly, but just the dark one.

From the September 29, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash