Chocolate may hold the key to long life, a senior doctor has claimed.
A substance found in cocoa, known as epicatechin, may rival penicillin and anaesthesis in its importance to medicine, according to Professor Norman Hollenberg, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
Quoted in the journal Chemistry and Industry, Professor Hollenberg reports on his studies of the Kuna people of Panama, central America.
The Kuna drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week - and natural cocoa has high levels of epicatechin.
This may be why they have low rates of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes, according to Professor Hollenberg.
According to his estimates their risk of these diseases is about ten per cent of the western average.
But chocolate lovers may be missing out on the full benefits of epicatechin - because it tends to be removed from commercial cocoa because of its bitter taste. The substance is also found in tea and wine.
The journal suggests it might ultimately be sold as a nutritional supplement.
Professor Hollenberg said today: "If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine."We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the western world, how important does that make epicatechin?... I would say very important."