Research to Link Chocolate and Heart Health (Brought to You by Mars)

We are always on the lookout for research that recasts our habits in a positive light. Maybe drinking wine is actually good for the heart and coffee improves memory. Is the science up to peer-review standards? That tends to matter less to lay readers than the perceived validation of our wine- and coffee-drinking ways.

Now a large-scale study is being launched to see if a compound in dark chocolate can help prevent stroke and heart attacks. The sponsors of this research include the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and the candymaker Mars. If health science brought-to-you by M&Ms and Twix doesn’t raise red flags, consider that Mars also stands to benefit because it has another arm called Mars Symbioscience, which describes itself as “a technology-based health and life sciences business focused on evidence-based product development.” Among other things, it developed a dog DNA testing service, Wisdom Panel.

But more pertinently than canine genetics in this case, Symbioscience also developed a line of pills, chocolates, and drink enhancers containing an extract called cocoa flavanols. The company claims its CocoaVia supplement will “help support healthy circulation, which is important for overall health as well as cardiovascular health, cognitive health, skin health, blood flow and exercise performance,” though a disclaimer on the website states that these claims have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

The cocoa flavanol study will be led by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It will enroll 18,000 participants over four years, which also includes research about the effects of multivitamins, according to an Associated Press report. Meantime, any wishful bingeing on Mars bars won’t do much good: Even if flavanols are healthy, there’s not a significant enough concentration in candy, which also happens to be sweet and fatty. So step away from that bag of Snickers.