Good news about the health benefits of chocolate keeps mounting. According to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, moderate consumption may significantly decrease the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), a life-threatening type of irregular heartbeat that plagues many.
Cocoa and cocoa-containing foods may promote cardiovascular health due to their high content of flavanols.
Earlier studies have indicated that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has cardiovascular benefits; but only limited research has been conducted on the food’s effect on AF. In this condition, the two upper chambers of the heart called the atriums don’t beat at the same rate as the two lower chambers of the heart, a problem that results in a seriously irregular heartbeat. It afflicts more than 33 million people around the world and is associated with an increased risk of heart failure, stroke, dementia and death. Since the condition has no cure, it’s important to identify preventive measures, wrote the authors of the study in an accompanying editorial.
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The current research published in the journal Heart involved an examination of data on 55,502 men and women enrolled in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Heath Study. Blood pressure, body mass and cholesterol of the participants were considered, as well as their incidence of health maladies such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Their dietary and lifestyle data was also included in the assessment.
In addition, cases of AF were identified using the Danish National Patient Register. Within the study’s 13.5‑year timespan, 3,346 patients received this diagnoses.
Analysis showed that chocolate has a protective effect on AF. Participants who ate one to three one-ounce servings of chocolate per month had a 10 percent reduced incidence of AF compared those who ate less than one serving per month. Individuals who ate one serving per week had a 17 percent lower incidence, and those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20 percent lower incidence.
In an interview with Olive Oil Times, lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky explains why chocolate is beneficial for the heart. “Cocoa and cocoa-containing foods may promote cardiovascular health due to their high content of flavanols, a subgroup of polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. These compounds decrease the fibrosis and resulting electrical disorders of AF,” she said.
“Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed by the study participants likely had relatively low concentrations of potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a significant association between eating chocolate and a lower risk of AF — suggesting that even small amounts of cocoa consumption can have a positive health impact,” said Mostofsky in the Harvard press release.
“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice,” she added.