More Evidence of Dark Chocolate's Heart-Healthy Effects

More Evidence of Dark Chocolate's Heart-Healthy Effects
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Prior studies have shown that eating dark chocolate may lower blood pressure
A study in the British Medical Journal suggests that for people with metabolic syndrome, eating dark chocolate daily may be one strategy for preventing cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke.

Dark chocolate may add to health protection

Prior studies have shown that eating dark chocolate may lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels—both of which are good for preventing heart disease and strokes. In this meta-analysis—in which data from many studies are combined and analyzed together—researchers reviewed studies exploring the link between dark chocolate consumption and health. Researchers estimated the number of heart attack and strokes that might be prevented through this appealing preventive option. Their review included 2,013 participants, all of whom had metabolic syndrome (symptoms include high blood pressure, large waist circumference, and high fasting sugar (glucose) levels). The chocolate used in the study contained natural plant compounds called polyphenols in an amount equivalent to the amount found in 100 grams of dark chocolate per day for at least 14 days.

Chocolate lovers will be glad to know that the researchers estimated that if people with metabolic syndrome would eat the [prescribed] plain dark chocolate every day, this could potentially prevent 85 cardiovascular events (heart attacks and stroke) per 10,000 people treated over 10 years.

According to the study authors, “Dark chocolate, derived from cocoa beans, is another food rich in polyphenols, specifically flavonoids. Flavonoids exhibit antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and metabolic effects, all of which may contribute to their protective effect.” They caution, however, that this study is an estimation based on available short-term data, and studies have not yet determined the long-term effects of eating dark chocolate every day for ten years.

More on chocolate and your health

  • Think before you eat. While the idea of eating chocolate every day for your health may be appealing, it is important to know that not just any type or amount of chocolate benefits health, and in fact, eating too much chocolate can increase your sugar and fat intake and hurt your health. The study authors point out that “the cardiovascular protective effects of cocoa, and more specifically flavonoids, have only been shown for dark chocolate, rather than for milk or white chocolate.”
  • Prevention is key. A prevention plan to help avoid heart attacks and stroke may include many strategies, such as lifestyle behavior recommendations (like regular exercise and eating a healthy diet) and possibly medications and supplements as prescribed or recommended by your doctor. So before loading up on chocolate, talk with a knowledgeable doctor about the role of dark chocolate in your cardiovascular prevention plan.

(BMJ 2012;344:e3657 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e3657)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.