Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England have finally published solid evidence to demonstrate the consumption of chocolate is associated with improved heart and vascular health. Writing in the prestigious BMJ (British Medical Journal), Dr. Oscar Franco and his team determined several factors including diet, exercise, body weight control and lifestyle changes could help reduce the risk of heart disease, a condition expected to claim the lives of nearly 24 million people worldwide by the year 2030.
The study authors found that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa from chocolate consumption could reduce heart disease risk by one-third and could also reduce the risk of sudden death from a heart attack and stroke incidence.
Cocoa from Dark Chocolate Improves Cardiac Risk Markers
The study included an analysis of seven detailed research bodies that included more than 114,000 participants. All studies independently pointed to the conclusion that different levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardio-metabolic disorders. Researchers found that the flavonoids passed to chocolate from the cocoa bean have a positive impact on health and were found to regulate insulin sensitivity and maintain blood pressure in the normal range.
Researchers ranked chocolate consumption among participants in the seven studies from highest to lowest to determine the effect of the cocoa flavanols on human health risk factors. Five of the seven studies showed that eating the highest amount of chocolate significantly reduced the number of cardiac events. In particular they found those who ate the most chocolate had a 37% lower risk of having a cardiovascular incident compared to those who ate the least.
Chocolate Consumption Lowers Risk of Stroke by Nearly Thirty Percent
When assessing other risk factors, the study authors found that the highest chocolate consumers had a 29% lower incidence of stroke compared to the lowest chocolate eaters. Interestingly the researchers found that high levels of chocolate consumption specifically lowered the risk of a cardiac or stroke event but did not impact heart failure, another very serious form of heart disease and death. The studies examined did not differentiate between milk and dark chocolate, and included chocolate desserts, biscuits, chocolate bars and drinks. Prior research has indicated maximum benefit from eating dark, bitter chocolate with a high cocoa content.
The authors did provide a word of caution regarding excess consumption of chocolate particularly because commercially available chocolate is very caloric and eating too much of it could in itself lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease. They concluded, “Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardio-metabolic disorders.” Individuals looking to take advantage of the health benefits of chocolate may want to use a cacao bean extract supplement (25 to 50 mg per day) to reap the cardiovascular and stroke risk reduction benefits.