written by reader Tidings, Mostly Glad

Stocking stuffers and some brief comments from Doc Gumshoe

By Michael Jorrin, "Doc Gumshoe", December 18, 2013

[ed note: We feature the musings of our favorite health and medicine writer, Michael Jorrin, a couple times a month, and we’ve taken the liberty of calling him “Doc Gumshoe” (he’s not a doctor). You’ll find no stock picks in his pieces, but hopefully will get plenty of insight into the medical matters he explains so well. Michael’s words and opinions are his own, and they always spur plenty of discussion. Enjoy!]

We’ll start off with some stocking stuffers and work up to a couple of major items. But don’t be surprised if there are a few lumps of coal along the way!

A few of these are not quite new, but I think they bear repeating:

Dark Chocolate May Lower Blood Pressure

You have probably already heard that dark chocolate is “good for you,” but here are some data to back it up. This comes from a small but well-conducted study, in Italy, naturally. Subjects, 20 in all, had untreated hypertension at least greater than 140/90 mm Hg. They had either 3.5 ounces of dark or while chocolate per day, every day for a week. Then they were off chocolate altogether for another week, and finally they switched to the other kind of chocolate for a third week – the people who had been taking dark chocolate switched to white, and vice-versa. The dark chocolate lowered systolic blood pressure by 12 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 8.5 mm Hg. And dark chocolate also improved insulin sensitivity and lowered LDL cholesterol. White chocolate didn’t do a thing. The difference was attributed to the high level of flavonoids in dark chocolate; these are absent in white chocolate and nearly absent in milk chocolate.

Coffee May Protect Against Diabetes

Lots of studies have confirmed this, including a huge meta-analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health. The most persuasive was a trial in 910 adults with impaired glucose tolerance, which is a stage leading to definite type 2 diabetes. The study reported that both past and present drinkers of coffee with caffeine had about a 60% reduction in diabetes risk, compared with coffee teetotalers. There weren’t enough decaf drinkers in the study to come to any conclusions, but caffeine by itself doesn’t seem to be the answer. Is there something else in the coffee? Or are the coffee teetotalers doing something else to increase their risk of diabetes, such as knocking back a sugary soft drink? As we go through this “mostly glad tidings” piece, the question of what people do instead comes up again and again, as you’ll see. In fact, here’s one …

Diet Soda Is Associated with Higher Risk of Stroke?

There was a presentation at a meeting of the American Stroke Association with a highly counter-intuitive finding: that consumption of diet soda was associated with a markedly higher risk of stroke. Diet soda increases stroke risk? What next?

This was based on the ongoing Northern Manhattan Study (Columbia University, Division of Stroke and Critical Care), in which 2,564 subjects were categorized into seven cohorts based on soda consumption, ranging from no soda at all (meaning less than one soda per month), regular soda, cohorts consuming various combinations of regular and diet soda, and the cohort of daily diet soda drinkers. Subjects were followed for 9.3 years, during which 559 cerebrovascular events – i.e., either strokes or transient ischemic events (TIAs) – were recorded. After compensating for age, sex, race, and “lifestyle,” diet soda drinkers had a 61% higher risk of strok