Chocolate for the heart - benefits revealed

A comprehensive analysis of previous studies including more than 114,000 subjects has shown that high levels of chocolate consumption are associated with a significant reduction in the risk of certain cardiovascular disorders.

The results of the analysis were based on seven studies that looked at the consumption of a variety of chocolate. The studies, which followed people in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US and Japan for about a decade on average, did not focus on dark chocolate alone, which is believed to be the most beneficial type. The studies looked at candies and candy bars, chocolate drinks, cookies, desserts and nutritional supplements. By many measures, consumption of chocolate was linked to lower rates of stroke, coronary heart disease, blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions. But there was no beneficial effect on the risk for heart failure or diabetes.

The report published Monday in the British medical journal BMJ, showed that those in the group that consumed the most chocolate had decreases of 37 percent in the risk of any cardiovascular disorder and 29 percent in the risk for stroke.

Lead author, Dr. Oscar H. Franco, a lecturer in public health at the University of Cambridge, warned that this finding was not a license to indulge and noted that none of the studies reviewed involved randomized controlled trials. He said, “Chocolate may be beneficial, but it should be eaten in a moderate way, not in large quantities and not in binges…If it is consumed in large quantities, any beneficial effect is going to disappear.”

Dr Franco added no one really understood why chocolate appeared to be so good for heart health. He said, “Foods are very complex structures where many substances interact to have a beneficial effect.” One theory is that chocolate contains large amounts of antioxidants, some of which can help keep the arteries clean. It could also help people to relax and enjoy life more, he thought. “Chocolate could be contributing to better quality of life, and that could be one of the mechanisms, but that’s just speculation,” he said. There was also some evidence that it stimulated the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that give people a feeling of wellbeing.

Dr Franco presented the results at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris on Monday.

Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said, “We can’t start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research. If you want to reduce your heart disease risk, there are much better places to start than at the bottom of a box of chocolates.”

But Dr Franco was unapologetic about his research. “You should not keep from doing something that could bring a benefit, just because you are concerned about headlines,” he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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