The People's Perspective on Medicine

Does Chocolate Really Help Your Heart?

A Danish study found that people who eat chocolate are less likely to have atrial fibrillation. Does chocolate really help prevent Afib?

The Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study has turned up an interesting observation: people who eat chocolate are less likely to develop atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm abnormality that affects between 2 and 6 million American. Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is associated with a greater chance of stroke, cognitive decline and heart failure. But does chocolate really help? It might be too much to expect.

What Did the Danish Study Show?

The Danish study included 55,502 men and women who answered detailed questionnaires about their food consumption at the beginning of nearly 14 years of follow-up. They could report various frequencies of chocolate consumption, from “never” to “four or five times a day.” During the study, participants experienced 3,346 cases of atrial fibrillation.

Those who ate an ounce of chocolate at least once a month were 10 percent less likely to develop Afib. Those who consumed chocolate every week had a 17 percent lower risk, while those who had two to six servings a week lowered their risk by about 20 percent. There was no benefit to eating more than six servings weekly.

How Much Is a Serving?

The scientists determined that a serving was about one ounce, roughly equivalent to 30 grams. Some large chocolate bars are 2.5 or 3 ounces, while a Hershey’s bar, for example, is 1.55 ounces. The volunteers were not asked whether they were eating dark or milk chocolate, but dark chocolate is more popular in Denmark. Dark chocolate has more cocoa flavonoids in it.

Could Chocolate Really Help Prevent Afib?

Epidemiological studies like this one cannot establish cause and effect. Other studies have shown that cocoa flavonoids in chocolate relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure, keep platelets from clotting inappropriately and reduce the risk of dementia.

The investigators on the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study point out that European chocolate is higher in cocoa than many popular American chocolates. So while you can’t necessarily count on chocolate to help your heart, you needn’t feel guilty about munching a small amount of dark chocolate at least once a week. You might even be doing your heart good.

Mostofsky et al, Heart, May 23, 2017

From a Reader:

Years ago, we heard from a reader who got very good results eating chocolate to lower blood pressure:

Q. I’ve got a comment about the dark chocolate controversy on whether it is irresponsible to recommend chocolate for health benefits.

I started eating Hershey’s dark chocolate when it was on sale a few weeks ago. I enjoy about five of the little squares twice a day. Both my systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers went down about 15 or 20 points each.

A. Could chocolate really help lower blood pressure? It will never substitute for medicine, but some data support your experience. Studies have demonstrated modest of benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate in lowering blood pressure (Grassi et al, Hypertension, Aug., 2005; Archives of Internal Medicine, Feb. 27, 2006).

Your reaction to chocolate is much greater than average. A carefully conducted meta-analysis of 35 studies found that blood pressure dropped about 2 points, on average, when people consumed cocoa flavanols (Ried et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 25, 2017). Studies of chocolate and blood pressure have used doses ranging from 10 g (the size of one Ghirardelli chocolate square) to 100 g (the size of a Ritter Sport bar).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Would Peoples Pharmacy be interested in a non-traditional cure for colitis ?

While trying to get my LDL down to 70 with generic Lipitor (over 2 years), the best we could do was 85 -90. I read about Cocoa powder and began adding it to my breakfast drink. I added 1 HEAPING tablespoon of 100% Cacao Natural Unsweetened powder. I had LDL checked 2 months afterward and it was 68. Since then, now over 3 years, my LDL has been between 68-72. I was using Hershey’s (23 oz) ordered through Amazon. They stopped carrying it and I am using a slightly cheaper organic product also from Amazon with the same result.

I think it would be wonderful if true. A little chocolate can’t hurt.

I eat a small amount of dark chocolate (85 or 88% cocoa) every day and several months ago added 2 piled up teaspoons of raw cacao in a yogurt alternative and/or gluten free cereal. On June 2 I will have a chemical stress test and ECHO to determine whether the irregularities in my heartbeat is atrial fibrillation or something less serious. I am now in my nineties. In two previous stress tests several years ago (the second one after severe side effects from Atronel) I had no heart trouble.

5

This is the worst kind of “science” and does great harm not only to the discipline but potentially great harm to the consumers. I wish we would ALL stop this.

Peoples Pharmacy states: ” The volunteers were not asked whether they were eating dark or milk chocolate, but dark chocolate is more popular in Denmark…”

After reading the referenced research article, I found milk chocolate, not dark chocolate, is more popular in Denmark. I quote the article in two places.

“…The questionnaire did not differentiate between milk and dark chocolate, but most chocolate consumed in Denmark has a minimum of 30% cocoa solids…”

“…However, most of the chocolate consumed in Denmark is milk chocolate. In the European Union, milk chocolate must contain a minimum of 30% cocoa solids and dark chocolate must contain a minimum of 43% cocoa solids; the corresponding proportions in the USA are 10% and 35%…”

This suggests that, I could consume 0.3 ounces of cocoa, and have the same effect as chocolate having 30% cocoa solids. .

One can simply add a scoop of dark chocolate cooking powder, natural, to their coffee. Sugar is evil. Tooth decay is the number one disease in the entire world. You do not have to have sugar with your dark chocolate. There is sugar-free dark chocolate available. Sugar causes cross-linking of your proteins

Drinking cocoa has more flavanols than eating the candy.

I’ve noticed more dark chocolate available at local groceries; if not, I ask where to find it. One can start with 70% bars and gradually move up to 85%, 90%. Palatability may depend on how much other added sugars we are used to consuming; please be aware that these added sugars INCREASE heart disease risk. So learning to enjoy any foods with less added sugars its own benefit.

Due to this research you cite here and other, I eat %100 cocoa in milk daily, no added sugars. Drinking this as I type.

Eat more dark cocoa; the food of New World royalty, before Europeans found it. An all-American food!

My wife and I eat cacao every day – nothing but lightly processed cacao bean. The only ingredient is: organic cacao nibs.

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