The list of possible health benefits from eating dark chocolate is getting longer. Previous studies have linked dark chocolate to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. A new study suggests that the antioxidant powers of dark chocolate may also be useful as a low-cost, tasty treatment to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for cardiovascular patients.
Flavonoids and heart health
Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidant substances known to produce heart-healthy benefits. Until now, the effects of dark chocolate on heart health have only been examined in short-term studies. But Chris Reid, PhD, of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia says his team of researchers has conducted the first long-term study on dark chocolate and risk of cardiovascular disease.
The dark chocolate treatment
The Australian researchers wanted to learn more about the potential of dark chocolate as an effective low-cost treatment option for patients at risk for cardiovascular events. Reid’s team applied a mathematical model to data on 2,013 people from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle study.
People in the study had metabolic syndrome, a condition including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and belly fat, which increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Researchers used the mathematical model to compare the study population with numbers crunched from previous dark chocolate studies.
Doing the math
Data on the blood-pressure-lowering effects of dark chocolate were taken from 13 studies and data on the cholesterol lowering effects were taken from eight studies. Cost data was derived from a review of the costs of cardiovascular complications in a healthy population. The researchers calculated the number of deaths prevented by estimating the difference in mortality between those consuming and not consuming dark chocolate.
The mathematical model indicated that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate a day for 10 years would prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people with metabolic syndrome. The mathematical model also indicated that promoting or subsidizing the daily consumption of dark chocolate at a cost of $42 per person per year would be well worth the investment, considering a savings of $50,000 for each year of life saved.
That’s a lot of chocolate
The findings are likely to be controversial. For one, the Australian researchers used a mathematical model, rather than study real people eating real dark chocolate. Plus, eating 100 grams of dark chocolate a day—3.5 ounces, or about 2 bars—would mean a lot of extra sugar and calories for people with metabolic syndrome who are overweight and glucose intolerant already.
Eat healthy, exercise
Until further research is done on real people, it’s better for people who have put themselves at risk for heart attack and stroke to place a priority on losing weight and exercising more. And even if dark chocolate doesn’t turn out to be a viable prescription for prevention of cardiovascular events, it does have a place in a healthy eating plan for everyone.