Dark Chocolate & Cardiac Health: Good News

chocolate splash

I have to confess that I am awfully fond of dark chocolate. But could my weakness for the good stuff translate into better health? Today, we will take a little detour away from cancer and examine the relationship between modest consumption of dark chocolate and cardiovascular health.

Inside chocolate: Dark chocolate is packed with flavonoids, a group of phytochemicals that act as antioxidants. Consuming chocolate increases the antioxidants in our blood. How does that translate into something actionable? A couple of small squares of dark chocolate can reduce your risk of death from heart attack by nearly half in some cases. This is the conclusion of Diane Becker, MPH, ScD of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

How the heck does that work? Becker found that blood platelets clotted more slowly among individuals who had earn chocolate as compared to those who had not. Remember: When platelets clump, a clot can form and block a blood vessel. This can lead to a myocardial infarction (heart attack). You have the flavanoids in cocoa to thank for these positive effects. Harvard researchers added that chocolate may lower the risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammatory actions, and decreasing low density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation.

A review of the literature suggests other mechanisms, too. In a separate study, healthy men who consumed dark chocolate had improved flow of blood in their arteries; the walls of the blood vessels literally relaxed. And our friends in Italy found that insulin resistance (a risk factor for diabetes) improved with chocolate consumption. Blood pressure went down too (at least the systolic blood pressure, or the first number in the blood pressure reading lowered).

What type of chocolate is the most flavonoid-rich? The highest levels are in natural cocoa powder (not Dutch cocoa, though, because itis alkalized). The type second highest in flavonoids is unsweetened baking chocolate. Dark chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips rank third, with milk chocolate and chocolate syrup having the least.

cacao bean on tree chocolate

     But you write a cancer blog: Indeed. But I so love dark chocolate (in moderation). And for this, you must suffer a bit today, hearing about the magic elixir!

My take: Two to three small squares of dark chocolate (70% or higher) may help to improve your cardiovascular health. But wait! There’s more! In a future blog, we will look at recent studies about potential reductions in risk of cancer associated with our dark chocolate. Suffice it to say that while we need more evidence, the available literature hints at reductions in cancer risk due to the antioxidant effects of dark cholocate. That it is a pleasurable eating experience is a bit of an added bonus. You now know what you need to do. And enjoy! (My favorite is Green & Black brand.) I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. And have a great day!  

About the author: I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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