Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Lower risk of heart disease with dark chocolate. Done! April 11, 2010

According to research published in the European Heart Journal last month just one small square of chocolate a day can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. The study is

Researchers in Germany followed 19,357 people, aged between 35 and 65, for at least ten years and found that those who ate the most amount of chocolate — an average of 7.5 grams a day — had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount of chocolate — an average of 1.7 grams a day. The difference between the two groups amounts to six grams of chocolate: the equivalent of less than one small square of a 100g bar.

Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany, who led the research said: “People who ate the most amount of chocolate were at a 39% lower risk than those with the lowest chocolate intakes. To put it in terms of absolute risk, if people in the group eating the least amount of chocolate (of whom 219 per 10,000 had a heart attack or stroke) increased their chocolate intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about ten years. If the 39% lower risk is generalised to the general population, the number of avoidable heart attacks and strokes could be higher because the absolute risk in the general population is higher.”

However, he warned that it was important people ensured that eating chocolate did not increase their overall intake of calories or reduce their consumption of healthy foods. “Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable,” he said.

The researchers allocated the participants to four groups (quartiles) according to their level of chocolate consumption. Those in the top quartile, eating around 7.5g of chocolate a day, had blood pressure that was about 1mm Hg (systolic) and 0.9mm Hg (diastolic) lower than those in the bottom quartile. [2]

“Our hypothesis was that because chocolate appears to have a pronounced effect on blood pressure, therefore chocolate consumption would lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks, with a stronger effect being seen for stroke,” explained Dr Buijsse.

The researchers found lower blood pressure due to chocolate consumption at the start of the study explained 12% of the reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, but even after taking this into account, those in the top quartile still had their risk reduced by a third (32%) compared to those in the bottom quartile over the duration of the study.

Although more research needs to be carried out, the researchers believe that flavanols in cocoa may be the reason why chocolate seems to be good for people’s blood pressure and heart health; and since there is more cocoa in dark chocolate, dark chocolate may have a greater effect.

“Flavanols appear to be the substances in cocoa that are responsible for improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels — vascular endothelial cells,” said Dr Buijsse. “Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen; this may contribute to lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide also improves platelet function, making the blood less sticky, and makes the vascular endothelium less attractive for white blood cells to attach and stick around.”

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