Not near­ly as much fun as eating candy bars

A large-scale (18,000 men and women) study is being launched this year to test whether pills packed with the nutrients in dark chocolate (minus the sugar and fat) can help prevent heart attacks and stroke.

The study is being sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars, Inc. (the makers of M&Ms and Snickers bars).images-4 Mars, Inc. has actually patented a technique for extracting flavanols from cocoa in high concentrations. Flavanols have been previously tested in smaller studies to improve blood pressure, cholesterol, the body’s use of insulin, artery health, and other heart-related factors. Unfortunately, cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by the processing of candy, so eating a bunch of chocolate bars won’t help.

Study participants will take two capsules of cocoa flavanols or placebo daily for four years, so it might be a while before we decide if cocoa flavanols will be added to our regimen of preventative medicines.