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Chocolate May Prevent Life-Threatening Condition, Premature Birth

Break out the bon-bons!

A new study says women who ate chocolate three times a week had half the risk of developing preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition and a leading cause of premature birth.

The study, conducted at Yale University, questioned 2500 women about their eating habits during pregnancy.  The ones who reported eating chocolate regularly were considerably less likely to suffer from high blood pressure during pregnancy and other symptoms of pre-eclampsia.

Before you go running for your, er, preventative medicine,  read on for some important details…or at least wipe your hands so you don’t get chocolate all over the keyboard.

The theory is that theobromine, the chemical that gives chocolate its bitter taste, may be causing the blood vessels to dilate. But the study did not specify chocolate type, so it’s not clear how the percentage of cocoa relates to the chemical’s potential effectiveness. The study head warns, too, that since the information was conveyed by the mothers, there may be human error involved in the reporting. Clearly, further studies will be necessary (as per usual).

Still, this is pretty exciting. A reason to eat chocolate? I’ll take it. Even though I’m not pregnant. We’ve been hearing so much about the benefits of this much maligned food over recent years. But the idea that even in diluted (hot cocoa?!) form, chocolate can help prevent a disease that’s responsible for such a large number of pregnancy complications and mortalities is huge.

About 5% of pregnant women develop preeclampsia in the U.S. each year, and the condition is responsible for 15% of premature births. In fact, it’s the biggest known cause of preterm birth. Over 1000 infants die each year of preeclampsia in the US alone, and the mortality rate is much higher in countries without high-level NICU care. Preeclampsia is also a leading cause of maternal death during pregnancy, resulting in an estimated 50,000 maternal deaths worldwide. Any preventative treatment would obviously be welcome. A preventative treatment in the form of almost everyone’s favorite treat? Sounds almost too good to be true. Let’s hope it’s not!

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