Women's health * 50+ health * Healthy living

Chocolate reduces risk of heart failure

Chocolate reduces risk of heart failure Alas, no beneficial effect if you eat too much

Regularly eating a small amount of dark chocolate has been found to reduce the risk of heart failure in middle aged and older women.

In a nine year study among 31,823 women in Sweden, researchers found that women who ate an average of one to two servings of chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure, while those who had one to three servings per month had a 26 percent lower risk.

However, those who consumed at least one serving daily or more didn’t appear to benefit from a protective effect against heart failure.

The lack of a protective effect among women eating chocolate every day may be due to the additional calories gained from eating chocolate, said lead researcher Dr Murrray Mittleman, of Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“You can’t ignore that chocolate is a relatively calorie-dense food and large amounts of habitual consumption is going to raise your risks for weight gain,” said Dr Mittleman.

“But if you’re going to have a treat, dark chocolate is probably a good choice, as long as it’s in moderation,” he added.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. It affects about 1 per cent of people in the US above the age of 65.

“Anything that helps to decrease heart failure is an important issue worth examining,” Dr Mittleman said

Other, mostly short term studies found that the high concentration of compounds called flavonoids in chocolate may lower blood pressure. This was the first study to show long-term outcomes related specifically to heart failure, which can result from ongoing untreated high blood pressure.

Chocolate in Sweden, where the study was conducted, is relatively high quality and generally contains about 30 per cent of cocoa solids. Dark chocolate tends to contain more cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

“This is not an ‘eat all you want’ take-home message, rather it’s that eating a little dark chocolate can be healthful, as long as other adverse behaviors do not occur, such as weight gain or excessive intake of non-nutrient dense ‘empty’ calories,” said Dr Linda Van Horn, from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“But before you rip open those sweet treats, remember that whilst antioxidants in chocolate may be helpful to your heart, they can also be found in fruit and veg – foods which don’t come with the saturated fat and high calories that chocolate does," said Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.

The study was reported in Circulation: Heart Failure, a journal of the American Heart Association.

This article was published on Tue 17 August 2010

Image © Leah-Anne Thompson - Fotolia.com

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