There may be some heart benefits in snacking on chocolate on a regular basis.
According to a new study conducted by researchers in Denmark and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF)—a common type of irregular heartbeat that is linked to a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, cognitive decline, dementia and death—decreases significantly with the consumption of moderate amounts of chocolate.
“Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” Elizabeth Mostofsky, instructor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, a postdoctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Cocoa and cocoa-containing foods—especially dark chocolate—are known to have cardiovascular benefits, likely due to their high content of flavanols, which promote healthy blood vessel function.
Recent research shows that the pathophysiology of AF involves an inflammatory cascade resulting in a release of cytokines, reactive oxygen species and stimulation of fibroblast proliferation, differentiation and activation. According to the study, the anti-inflammation and antiplatelet benefits of cocoa may be associated with a lower risk of AF.
The researchers examined 55,502 men and women who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study in the 90’s and looked at their health conditions and other health statistics including blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol.
The researchers then followed up with the participants who suffered from AF over a 13.5-year follow-up period from the original survey, which took place between 1993 and 1997. Overall, there were 3,346 cases of AF found in the follow-up period.
The participants who ate one to three servings of chocolate per month had a 10 percent lower rate of AF than those who ate less than one serving per month. Those who ate one serving per week had a 17 percent lower rate and those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20 percent lower rate than those who ate less than one serving per month.
However, the participants who at one or more servings of chocolate per day only saw a 16 percent lower rate.
“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,” Mostofsky said.
“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,” she added. “But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”
The study was published in Heart.