Dark Chocolate for Heart Health – New Evidence of Benefits

by Leigh on June 11, 2012

dark chocolate heart health

Just 100g of dark chocolate a day could help lower your risk of heart problems.

Dark chocolate is good for the heart, so don’t be surprised if your doctor is soon telling you to eat plain chocolate as a cardioprotective strategy for lowering blood pressure and improving blood lipids. New evidence of dark chocolate’s benefits for a naturally healthy heart come courtesy of a team of researchers in Victoria, Australia. The scientists looked at the use of dark chocolate as a preventive strategy for cardiovascular disease in people with metabolic syndrome and the results add to a growing stack of evidence on the benefits of dark chocolate for heart health.

Dark Chocolate and Polyphenols for Heart Health

Senior author of the study, Christopher M. Reid, noted that the use of dark chocolate for patients with metabolic syndrome could be an effective and cost-effective strategy to reduce cardiovascular complications of the disease in high-risk patients. He and his colleagues, at the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, at Monash University, point out that the chocolate would need to be at least 60-70% cocoa and be enriched with polyphenols in order to exert a cardioprotective effect, so tucking into a giant gooey milk chocolate caramel candy bar is not going to help your heart stay healthy.

Switching to Dark Chocolate for Heart Health

Many people find that the bitterness of dark chocolate is too strong a taste after years of eating fat and sugar-laden candy. Dark chocolate is more satisfying, however, and those who do eat it tend to eat less chocolate overall. Re-training your taste buds to enjoy dark chocolate can then alert you to just how sugary and fatty most candy bars actually are, and you may find other benefits as your tastes change other poor dietary and nutrition habits such as soda consumption.

Cardiovascular Improvements Through Diet

heart disease medications

Could dark chocolate help you avoid having to take daily heart disease medications?

Cocoa beans are rich in polyphenols, including flavonoids that have the effect of lowering blood pressure (anti-hypertensive), reducing inflammation, reducing the risk of blood clots, and achieving other beneficial metabolic effects. These measures all contribute to a healthier heart and cardiovascular profile, with the added benefit of being a pleasant treatment option that is easily accessible.

Long-Term Benefits of Dark Chocolate

This new study is particularly interesting as it goes further than previous research into the benefits of dark chocolate for the heart. Earlier studies were short-term only, lasting less than five months or so, meaning that any benefits observed for reductions in LDL cholesterol and elevations of HDL cholesterol could not be determined longer-term. In this study, more than two thousand participants had their data used to monitor the presence of cardiovascular disease and the daily consumption of dark chocolate. The researchers used modelling systems to assess the likely effect of ten years of dark chocolate consumption on patients with metabolic syndrome, placing patients in one of the following categories: “alive without cardiovascular disease,” “alive with cardiovascular disease,” “dead from cardiovascular disease,” “dead from other causes.”

Lives Saved with Dark Chocolate

Data was taken from the Australian Diabetes Obesity and Lifestyles study and the patients included were all relatively young; they had an average age of just under fifty-four years old. Average blood pressure amongst the group was 141.1mmHg, average cholesterol 6.1mmol/L, and mean waist circumference was 100.4cm. Using data modelling, the researchers estimated that, assuming all patients ate dark chocolate daily for a decade, seventy nonfatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people, as well as fifteen cardiovascular-related deaths per 10,000 people, could be prevented.

Avoiding Heart Attacks Through Diet

Nonfatal cardiovascular events included stroke, and heart attack (myocardial infarction), and the researchers determined that a prevention strategy based on daily consumption of dark chocolate could save $52,500 per years of life saved. This is based on an estimated $42 per year spent on dark chocolate per person, making it cost-effective even if only the majority of patients with metabolic syndrome used the preventative health technique. As this study was based on data modelling the results should be viewed as a likely indicator of trends rather than any kind of proof of principle; extrapolation from short term results is always difficult and contentious.

How Much Chocolate is Healthy?

The effects of dark chocolate for heart health are not as profound as those of medications specifically tailored towards heart health. However, patients are far more likely to adopt a preventive health strategy based on chocolate consumption than remember to take a handful of pills consistently each day. It could be that in the future dark chocolate is subsidised, with advertising campaigns encouraging people to eat a daily ration of dark chocolate for heart health. How much chocolate should you eat daily for benefits for the heart? The amounts used in this study were up to 100g a day, so consider switching that sugar-laden candy bar to a bar of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 29% of all deaths and around eighteen million deaths each year. Eating a 100g bar of U>dark chocolate for heart health benefits seems a pretty simple step to take to reduce that number, particularly for women, who now face a higher risk of death from heart disease than men.

Reference


Zomer, E., Owen, A., Magliano, D.J., Liew, D., Reid, C.M., The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model, BMJ 2012;344:e3657.

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