Not even Willy Wonka, Roald Dahl's eccentric chocolate-maker, could have dreamt that his scrumptious products might one day offer the world a panacea.
But scientists are close to claiming just that. A compound in unrefined cocoa has health benefits that may rival those of penicillin and anaesthesia, they say.
Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has spent years studying the Kuna people in Panama. He found that four of the most common killers - stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes - affected fewer than one in 10 of the Kuna.
Unrefined natural cocoa contains high levels of epicatechin, which Professor Hollenberg said was so important it should be considered a vitamin.
He told Chemist and Industry magazine: "If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing 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 four of the five most common diseases in the Western world. How important does that make epicatechin? I would say very important."
Daniel Fabricant, vice-president at the Natural Products Association, said that the observations might warrant a rethink of how vitamins are defined. There are 13 vitamins that are defined as essential to the normal functioning, metabolism and regulation of cell growth, and deficiency is usually linked to disease.
"The link between high epicatechin consumption and a decreased risk of killer disease is so striking, it should be investigated further. It may be that these diseases are the result of epicatechin deficiency," Mr Fabricant said.
Source - Independent