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Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Keep Asthma, Allergies at Bay for the Holidays
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
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Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell
Higher Vitamin D Intake Could Cut Cancer Risk
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Safe Toys for Dogs
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
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Bone Density Predicts Chances of Breast Cancer
Gene Plays Key Role in Clubfoot
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
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Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Yoga May Bring Calm to Breast Cancer Treatment
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Many Alzheimer's Caregivers Admit to Abusive Behavior
Most Women Struggle With Rising Health Care Costs
When the Caregiver Becomes the Patient
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Exercise May Blunt Salt's Effect on Hypertension
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
Anemia Rates Down for U.S. Women and Children
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Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
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Gum Care Helps Control Type 2 Diabetes and Its Complications
Acupuncture May Ease Anxiety Over Dental Work
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
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Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
Exercise Protects Black Women From Type 2 Diabetes
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Iced Teas Pose High Risk of Kidney Stones
Red Meat No No No But Oily Fish Yes Yes Yes
Cinnamon Breaks Up Brain Plaques, May Hold Key to Fighting Alzheimer’s
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Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
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Exposure to 9/11 Fumes Tied to Chronic Headaches
Years of Exposure to Traffic Pollution Raises Blood Pressure
Scorpion Anti-Venom Speeds Children's Recovery
EYE CARE, VISION
Sports Eye Injuries Leading Cause of Blindness in Youths
Eye Disease, Cognitive Decline Linked in Study
Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients' Sight
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Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
Brisk Walk Can Help Leave Common Cold Behind
Any Exercise Good After a Heart Attack
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
GENERAL HEALTH
15-Point Test Gauges Alzheimer's Risk
Research Confirms How Valuable A Healthy Lifestyle Can Be
Go To Work But Skip The Car
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
Cherry-Enriched Diet Cut Heart Risks in Rats
Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Heart Disease
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
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Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Teen Stress May Have Roots in First Three Years of Life
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
Teen Internet Addicts More Likely to Self-Harm: Study
MEN'S HEALTH
Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
Vigorous Exercise Cuts Stroke Risk for Men, Not Women
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
MENTAL HEALTH
Brain Scans Show How Humans 'Hear' Emotion
Environmental Chemicals May Affect Male Reproduction
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Calcium Supplements Cut Blood Lead Levels During Pregnancy
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
SENIORS
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
Community Exercise Programs Boost Seniors' Strength
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Omega-3 May Reduce Endometriosis Risk
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
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Ingredient in Dark Chocolate Could Guard Against Stroke

Something in dark chocolate seems to help protect the heart, and now researchers say they have identified the molecular mechanism by which a compound found in cocoa can guard against the damage of a stroke.

The compound, a flavanol called epicatechin, triggers two built-in protective pathways in the brain, according to a report published online last week in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. The research team was led by Sylvain Dore, an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pharmacology and molecular sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Animal studies raise the possibility that epicatechin may someday be used to treat strokes in humans, since its protective effect can be seen more than three hours after a stroke. Existing stroke treatments typically have a shorter window of activity.

While the cardioprotective effect of dark chocolate seen in several human studies appears to open the possibility that eating lots of chocolate is healthy, "I prefer to focus on cocoa," Dore said. "Cocoa is not like chocolate, which is high in saturated fat and calories. Cocoa can be part of a healthy diet, combined with fruits and vegetables."

It was a study of the cocoa-drinking Kuna Indians, living on islands off the coast of Panama, that led researchers to study epicatechin. An unusually low incidence of stroke and other cardiovascular disease in that population could not be explained by genetic studies, and eventually was attributed to consumption of a very bitter cocoa drink.

Studies by a number of scientists, including Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School, identified epicatechin as the protective ingredient in dark chocolate and cocoa.

The latest research looked at the mechanism of protection in mice who were induced to have strokes. "We gave different doses of epicatechin in mice 90 minutes before a stroke and found that it reduced infarct [stroke damage] size," Dore explained. "When we gave epicatechin after a stroke, it had a protective effect up to 3.5 hours later, but not after six hours."

Detailed studies showed that the flavanol activated two well-known pathways that shield nerve cells in the brain from damage, the Nrf2 and heme oxygenase pathways, Dore said. Epicatechin had no protective effect in mice bred to lack those pathways.

The possibility of using epicatechin to limit human stroke damage is distant, Dore said. "We have to be very careful," he said. "There are a lot of steps before going to human trials, potential risks and side effects. We need more work and more funding."

Dore's long-term plan calls for studies of epicatechin metabolites and derivatives, in cardiac disease as well as stroke. "At this point, we are using only the pure compound," he said.

Dr. Martin Lajous, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health who took part in one study that showed a reduced incidence of stroke in people who ate dark chocolate regularly, agreed with Dore in saying that eating a lot of chocolate is not a healthy dietary move.

Not all chocolate is created equal, Lajous said. "That's why we did the study in France, where they eat dark chocolate that is rich in flavanols," he said. "Chocolate comes with a lot of calories. I would talk about small amounts of dark chocolate rather than chocolate in general."

And the protective mechanism by which chocolate might prevent stroke isn't yet clear, Lajous added. The main effect appears to be the lowering of blood pressure, he said. "Flavanols are hypothesized to affect relaxation of smooth vascular muscle, such as the endothelial lining of blood vessels," Lajous said.