Chocolate may have benefits but flavanols make no difference to pregnancy outcomes, says researcher

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Laval University suggests dark chocolate can improve placental function during pregnancy. Photo: iStock - PIKSEL
Laval University suggests dark chocolate can improve placental function during pregnancy. Photo: iStock - PIKSEL
Chocolate may improve placental function during pregnancy but flavanol levels seem to make no difference to pregnancy outcomes, says a Canadian researcher.

Emmanuel Bujold, associate professor in the biology of reproduction at Université Laval in Canada, has conducted a study that has been reviewed and funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, but has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Uterine artery Doppler is used as a surrogate markers of deep placentation. That’s typically abnormal in the severe cases of preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR),”​ he told ConfectioneryNews.

Original assumption of the study found baseless

Bujold's study evaluated the impact of high-flavanol chocolate in comparison to low-flavanol chocolate during pregnancy.

“Genuine dark chocolate typically contains high levels of flavanols that can decrease dramatically with industrial processing.”

Researchers gave 131 women at risk of preeclampsia and other birth complications either a high or low flavanol chocolate for 12 weeks and later assessed the women's uterine arteries.

The result showed no difference in preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, placental weight or birthweight, according to the study’s abstract.

However, Bujold said his team observed an unexpected strong improvement of placental function in both groups.

He said, “Our observations suggest that a regular small consumption of dark chocolate, whether or not the level of flavanol is high, from the first-trimester of pregnancy could lead to an improvement of placental function and to a lower risk of adverse placenta-mediated outcomes of pregnancy.”

However, Bujold explained it is not the level of flavanols in chocolate that make a difference on pregnancy outcomes if there is a benefit.

Chocolate consumption level must be reasonable though further study is needed

Bujold refused to speculate on how much chocolate daily or weekly would improve outcomes.

“In practice, I believe that consumption of chocolate must remain reasonable during pregnancy, and caloric input has to be considered in the equation,” ​he said. “In our study, we limited the consumption to one small square of dark chocolate per day.”

Bujold said his study had no placebo group receiving no chocolate and said further research is required.

“A third group (placebo) would have been necessary to clarify whether this observation is directly related to the effect of chocolate or other potential confounding factors," ​he said.

Bujold suggested chocolate would be a significantly cheaper treatment to improve women and children's health if the effects are proved.

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