Chocolate May Lower Risk of Irregular Heartbeat

Moderate consumption of chocolate is beneficial for the heart, a new study finds.

Jun. 15, 2017
By Mary West

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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.- Elizabeth Mostofsky, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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.


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