Chocolate may reduce risk of irregular heartbeat, study finds - but don’t rush to the sweets aisle just yet

Good news for chocolate lovers: moderate intake of bars with high cocoa content could be a healthy choice, as they contain compounds that may counteract the effects of irregular heartbeat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 6:16am

Medical researchers have identified a compound that may reduce your risk of a dangerous type of heart rhythm that can lead to strokes, dementia, heart failure and early death.

In a study of more than 55,000 Danish men and women who were tracked for up to 16 years, people who used this compound were up to 20 per cent less likely to experience the heart condition. In general, the higher the dose, the lower the risk.

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What is this wonder drug? Chocolate. Ingredients in chocolate are known to counteract some of these problems. For instance, chocolate contains flavanols that can prevent the kind of inflammation that can lead to tissue damage. They may counteract clots that could form when an irregular heartbeat allows blood to pool in the heart. The results were published in the journal Heart.

Before you head out to the sweets aisle, know this: more research is needed. And chocolate is full of sugar, fat and calories. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice, researchers concluded. AP

If you’ve a reason to get out of bed in the morning, you’ll sleep better at night

Having a good reason to get out of bed in the morning means you are more likely to sleep better at night, with less sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome, according to a US study. The Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Centre study, based on older adults, is the first to show having a purpose in life specifically results in fewer sleep disturbances and improved sleep quality over a long period of time. Previous research showed having a purpose in life generally improves overall sleep when measured at a single point in time.

Although the participants in the study were older, researchers said the findings are likely applicable to the broader public.

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“Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia,” said senior author Jason Ong, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies.” The paper was published in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.

Individuals have more sleep disturbances and insomnia as they get older. Clinicians prefer to use non-drug interventions to improve patients’ sleep, a practice now recommended by the American College of Physicians as a first-line treatment for insomnia, Ong said.

Urge to give starts in the brain, researchers show

What inspires humans to acts of generosity? Economists, psychologists and philosophers have pondered this question for millennia.

If one assumes that human behaviour is primarily motivated by self-interest, it seems illogical to willingly sacrifice resources for others. In an attempt to solve this paradox, some experts have theorised that giving satisfies a desire to boost one’s standing in a group. Others have suggested it fosters tribal cooperation and cohesion -- a key element in mammal survival. Yet another explanation is that we give only because we expect to receive something in return.

The real answer, a study suggested, may be much simpler: giving makes us happy.

Scientists conducted an experiment with 50 people at a lab in Zurich who reported on their own happiness levels after acts of generosity. Consistently, they indicated that giving was a feel-good experience. At the same time, MRI scans revealed that an area of the brain linked to generosity triggered a response in another part related to happiness.

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“Our study provides behavioural and neural evidence that supports the link between generosity and happiness,” the team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Trial participants were promised an amount of 25 Swiss francs (HK$200, US$26) per week for four weeks. Half were asked to commit to spending the money on other people, while the rest could plan how they would spoil themselves. No money was actually received or spent by either group.

After committing to spending, the participants replied to questions while their brains were being scanned. The questions evoked scenarios pitting the participants’ own interests against those of the beneficiaries of their experimental largesse.

The researchers examined activity in three areas of the brain – one linked to altruism and social behaviour, a second to happiness, and a third area involved in decision-making. The group that committed to giving money away reported being happier than self-spenders, the team found – even without having acted on their pledges.

The degree of happiness they reported was independent of the amounts they committed.

The findings have implications for eduction, politics, economics and public health, said the researchers.

“Generosity and happiness improve individual well-being and can facilitate societal success,” they wrote. “However, in everyday life, people underestimate the link between generosity and happiness and therefore overlook the benefits of ... spending” on others. AFP