Good news for Valentine’s Day: Dark chocolate and champagne may improve heart health

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It’s news you’ll love for Valentine’s Day: a leading health expert says the dark chocolates and bubbly you bought your sweetheart may also improve their heart health.

There’s some surprisingly good news for everyone planning a romantic Valentine’s Day treat. Chocolate and Champagne are not necessarily bad for you. In fact, the treats you just bought your heart’s desire may also be just what their hearts need to stay healthy.

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘‘The good news for Valentine’s Day is that chocolates and fizz, in moderation, might improve our heart health.

‘Dark chocolate made from cocoa beans contains natural, beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while also producing nitrous oxide in the blood, helping relax blood vessels and so reduce blood pressure. Eating chocolate at least once a week is linked to an 8% reduced risk of heart disease, according to research published in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology”. It also found that chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients that may reduce inflammation and improve the amount of good cholesterols in the body.

‘A fascinating review of studies in the “British Medical Journal”, which included over 114,000 participants, found that those who ate higher levels of chocolate were 37% less likely to have coronary heart disease than people who ate the least chocolate. Higher levels of chocolate consumption were also associated with a 31% reduction in diabetes and a 29% reduction in strokes.   

‘So chocolates may actually be good for our hearts in some ways, which is very appropriate for Valentine’s Day. But what about Champagne? Can a bottle of bubbly also be good for our heart health?

‘Research from the University of Reading, published in the “British Journal of Nutrition”,  suggests that two glasses of Champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation. The researchers found that drinking Champagne daily in moderate amounts causes improvements in the way blood vessels function.

‘Again, this is down to our old friends, polyphenols. These plant chemicals are also found in the red grapes and white grapes used in Champagne production. When we drink Champagne, these polyphenols are absorbed into the circulation where they are able to act on the vascular system. Specifically, they appear to slow down the natural removal of nitric oxide from our blood, which ultimately improves vascular tone and circulation.

‘High nitric oxide levels in the blood, as a result of drinking Champagne, can have further beneficial effects, as they may help to decrease both blood pressure and the risk of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). This could reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

‘In fact, an analysis of 16 studies, including almost 290,000 healthy adults, published in the journal “Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases”, confirmed the significant reduction of vascular risk associated with wine consumption. And for the less romantic, the analysis also found beer had a similar effect. Light-moderate wine and beer consumption both showed maximal protection was 33% at 25g alcohol/day. 

‘The same report reveals that moderate alcohol consumption has a number of other health benefits. Perhaps most interestingly, moderate alcohol consumption in healthy adults and in cardiovascular patients protects against “total mortality”. In other words, the risk of death from all causes is reduced for moderate drinkers of all alcohol (including wine) compared to abstainers or heavy drinkers. The precise cause and effect is open to interpretation, but moderate amounts of alcohol may, potentially, protect our health.

‘Of course, there’s always a catch. Food items with high sugar and fat content are the leading cause of obesity, which is a contributing factor in many conditions. These range from high blood pressure and diabetes to kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease and stroke.

‘Similarly, the key word when talking about the consumption of Champagne, or any other alcohol, is “moderation”. Consumption should be weighed against the adverse effects associated with long-term alcohol excess. Any health benefits associated with Champagne are entirely reversed by consuming too much. It is wise to stay within recommended limits. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to heart disease, liver disease and increased cancer risk.

‘This Valentine’s Day, it might be a good idea to show yourself some love. A heart health profile blood test will tell you how well your heart is functioning. London Medical Laboratory’s simple, finger-prick blood test indicates risks to heart health and includes a full cholesterol profile, as well as testing for inflammation. It also tests for diabetes, showing how well the body is controlling blood sugar.

‘The Heart Health Profile test can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores


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