Most people eat chocolates because they taste good but unknown to many, chocolates also contain a substance that is good for the body.

Studies show that cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolates can reduce a person's risk of atherosclerosis, the thickening and hardening of the arteries that could lead to heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.

Curious of the cocoa flavanols' potentials, experts will conduct a study to see if pills that contain the nutrients found in chocolates in concentrated amounts can also prevent cardiovascular diseases. The study, which will involve 18,000 participants, will be the first large scale study on cocoa flavanols, which are also known to improve blood pressure and cholesterol level as well as help regain the body's ability to use insulin efficiently.

JoAnn Manson, preventive medicine chief at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that people eat chocolates not because they think they are good for their health but because they enjoy eating them. Manson said that the study will see if there are health benefits that can be derived from the chocolate's ingredients minus the sugar and fat commonly included in packaged chocolate bars.

"You're not going to get these protective flavanols in most of the candy on the market. Cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by the processing," Manson said. Manson, who will lead the study, already tried the flavanol capsules and said that they are coated and have no taste.

Study participants will either get two capsules of cocoa flavanols or dummy pills per day for four years but they won't know whether they are taking the placebo pills or the flavanol capsules.

Mars Inc., the maker of popular chocolate brands M&M's and Snickers bars, will sponsor the study along with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Mars, which has patented a process of extracting flavanols from cocoa in high concentration and place them in capsules, along with other companies, sell cocoa extract capsules albeit these do not have as much active ingredient as the pills that will be used in the study.

A second part of the study will also determine if multivitamins can prevent cancer as suggested by an earlier research that involved older, healthy men. The researchers will test if multivitamins can reduce cancer risks in a broader population.

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