Scientists already have suggested that eating chocolate may make you happy. Now they say men who indulge in chocolates may live longer.
A study of 7,841 Harvard male graduates found that chocolate and candy eaters, regardless of how voracious their appetite for goodies, live almost a year longer than those who abstain.
The researchers from Harvard University's School of Public Health, whose study was published in this week's issue of the British Medical Journal, speculate that antioxidants present in chocolate may have a health benefit.
The scientists stress their findings are preliminary, and other experts caution that the research does not prove the results can be attributed to the antioxidants.
In the study, those who ate a "moderate" amount of sweets, allowing themselves only one to three candy bars a month, fared the best, having a 36 percent lower risk of death compared with non-candy eaters.
Although they fared worse than the moderates, the more ardent confectionery eaters, classified as those treating themselves to three or more sweets a week, still lived longer than those who had banished candy from their lives, with a 16 percent decreased risk of death.
Scientists previously have found that chocolate contains phenols, antioxidant chemicals also present in wine. Antioxidants prevent fat-like substances in the blood from oxidizing and clogging the arteries.
"It's raising a hypothesis that, if true, would bring cheer to those who like chocolate," said Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiology professor at Harvard who led the research.
The study, in which men were questioned in 1988 about their candy habits over the past year, did not count chocolate sauce, cake or other chocolate consumed in desserts.
Andrew Waterhouse, a wine chemist at the University of California at Davis who has researched chocolate's antioxidant properties, said the Harvard hypothesis that the decrease in death risk could be linked to chocolate is "plausible."
He said he was surprised, however, by the finding that eating only three chocolate bars a month was associated with a lower death risk and doubted that was due to phenol.
"That frequency is so low it was surprising there would be any benefit from an antioxidant effect if that's the full explanation," said Waterhouse. "Oranges are high in antioxidants and you wouldn't expect much benefit from eating three oranges a month.''
Dr. Catherine Rice-Evans, a professor of biochemistry at Guy's Hospital in London, also doubted that the phenols in chocolate could explain the results.
She said she also was suspicious that the study did not find that the more chocolate the men ate, the lower their risk of death.
"That observation suggests to me that it's nothing to do with the chocolate,'' she said, adding that studies controlling the diet are necessary to discover if it is a real effect of chcolate.
Written By Emma Ross