Eating dark chocolate may be almost as effective at lowering blood pressure as taking the most common anti-hypertensive drugs, a review of studies has found. Tea, on the other hand, appears to be ineffective.

The article says a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy partly because plants contain chemical substances called polyphenols that help control blood pressure. From more than 3,000 papers, researchers picked the largest randomized and controlled prospective studies and used statistical techniques to combine the data. It appears in the April 9 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine.

Four of the five studies on chocolate found reduced blood pressure

PREDICTING HEART DISEASE Apparently, it is never too soon to be screened for cardiac disease. A study has found that mildly elevated levels of cholesterol or slightly above normal blood pressure from ages 18 to 30 are strong predictors of having coronary artery calcium at ages 30 to 35. Coronary artery calcium, a form of arterial plaque, is a predictor of heart disease.

Researchers recruited 5,115 people from 18 to 30 in 1985 and 1986 and followed them with physical examinations 2, 5, 7, 10 and 15 years later. The scientists tested blood pressure, cholesterol and serum glucose levels and recorded body mass index. The study appears Tuesday in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

At the year-15 examination, 10 percent had coronary artery calcium detectable on a CT scan. Compared with young adults who had below-optimal levels of the risk factors at the start of the study, those with above-optimal levels were one and a half to three times as likely to have coronary artery calcium 15 years later.

SWEDES GAINING WEIGHT Swedish children are growing fatter, researchers say. Scientists writing in the April issue of Acta Paediatrica describe two groups of children in Uppsala, Sweden. The first included children ages 4, 10 and 16 in 1982. The second group had children who were the same ages in 2002, for a total of 1,066 participants.

The prevalence of overweight and obese children as measured by body mass index increased among the 4-year-old girls, to 22 percent in 2002 from 10 percent in 1982, and among 10-year-old girls, to 30 percent in 2002 from 14 percent in 1982.

Among the boys, 10 percent of 4-year-olds had a ratio of 25 or higher in 1982, and 18 percent in 2002. Among the 10-year-old boys, 8 percent were overweight in 1982 and 21 percent in 2002. Among 16-year-olds, there were no differences between the 1982 and 2002 groups.

BACTERIUM AND ASTHMA Helicobacter pylori, the main cause of peptic ulcer disease, might have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk of asthma and allergies, a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine suggests.

Researchers questioned 7,663 men and women about their history of asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergy symptoms, and tested them for antibodies to H. pylori.

Overall, there was no association between the presence of H. pylori and current asthma status. But subjects under 43 who were colonized with the most virulent strain of H. pylori, called cagA, were 32 percent less likely to have asthma, 35 percent less likely to have allergic rhinitis and 20 percent less likely to report allergy symptoms than those who did not carry the bacterium. The New York Times