Their study also found that a cocoa-rich diet can help increase a natural process known as apoptosis or cell death, in which the body eliminates old, unhealthy cells, to make way for new ones -- a "chemoprevention mechanism" that helps ward off cancer advancement.
For eight weeks, researchers fed rats a cocoa-rich diet -- 12% -- and then induced the effects of cancer.
Results showed that the rats that consumed a diet high in cocoa had significantly reduced aberrant crypts, a common manifestation of colon cancer.
Crypts are tube-like glands found in the lining of the colon and rectum and, when functioning normally, renew the lining of the intestine and produce mucus.
Scientists also noted an improvement in the rats' antioxidant defenses and a decrease in oxidative damage induced by the carcinogens.
According to the WHO, colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and is the fourth most common cancer after lung, stomach and liver.
Cocoa is rich in flavonoids and antioxidant properties.
A study published last year in the British Medical Journal also found that high levels of chocolate consumption could be associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease by up to 37%.
The Spanish study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research and announced January 24.
From the January 31, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.