Flavonoids, which are found in cocoa and dark chocolate, could have big health benefits. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Another good reason to eat chocolate

New study finds that chocolate is good for our health and may help protect against cardiac fibrillation.

A large study suggests that chocolate could protect against atrial fibrillation—a widespread heart condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly and increases the risk of blood clots, cardiac arrest, and other serious hearth conditions.

“Your risk of having a developing atrial fibrillation looks to fall if you eat more chocolate. At least up to a certain limit,” says co-author Martin Berg Johansen, a biostatistician at the Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark.

The new study is the latest in a long line that points to the health benefits of eating dark chocolate.

According to Assistant Professor Lone Brinkmann Sørensen from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise, and Sports at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the best documented evidence is for chocolate’s ability to counteract increased blood pressure. But the new study also points to the ability of dark chocolate to reduce the risk of blood clots and other forms of heart disease.

But the new results are not an excuse to fill up on chocolate, says Sørensen.

“It matters which type of chocolate we’re talking about. It’s dark chocolate that looks to have a beneficial effect on health. Chocolate also contains fat and sugar, so it should of course be eaten in moderation. Otherwise you risk becoming overweight,” says Sørensen, who did not take part in the new study.

55,502 participants in the study

The new study is one of the first to investigate the connection between atrial fibrillation and chocolate intake.

In the study the scientists used the results of a previous survey completed by 55,502 people in Denmark, about how often they ate chocolate. They then compared these data to the national health registers to see how often these people had suffered from atrial fibrillation.

“If you eat chocolate two to six times a week and compare that to someone who largely never eats chocolate, then our calculations show that your risk of having a developing atrial fibrillation is 20 per cent lower,” says Johansen.

He emphasises that the study has a number of limitations and that it is not definitive evidence that chocolate protects against atrial fibrillation.

“When you make this type of study, there can be a whole load of other factors than chocolate that have an influence for whether you develop a disease such as atrial fibrillation. We try to take account of this in our calculations as much as possible, but there is still a large amount of uncertainty. We can’t say with certainty that it is chocolate that causes people to have fewer heart flutters. We can only see that there looks to be a correlation;” he says.

How chocolate benefits your health

The new study cannot say why chocolate may be able to prevent atrial fibrillation. But it may be due to the amounts of flavonoides contained in dark chocolate, says Sørensen,

Flavonoides are found naturally in cocoa, dark chocolate, green tea, red wine, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Previous studies have shown that flavonoids can counteract inflammation of the blood vessels and the formation of atherosclerosis. However, it is difficult to calculate how many flavonoids are consumed by eating one piece of chocolate.

“It’s not listed on the packet—how high the flavonoid content is in chocolate. Studies show that there can be a big difference between different types of dark chocolate. But it’s the flavonoids that give chocolate its bitter taste, so we tend to say that [the more bitter chocolate is more likely to contain these good substances],” says Sørensen.

But she emphasises that “it makes no sense” to eat dark, bitter chocolate solely for the sake of our health.

Read more in the Danish version of this story on Videnskab.dk

Translated by: Catherine Jex

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