Hooray for Chocolate!

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Great news, ladies! Chocolate really is our good friend. A new study published in the recent issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that daily dark chocolate consumption was associated with a drop in blood pressure. The research, conducted in Germany, suggests that eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day could lower blood pressure without increasing weight or other health risks.

Other studies have already suggested that eating large amounts of foods rich in cocoa can lower blood pressure. However, eating large amounts of cocoa often increases other risk factors because of the higher intake of sugar, fat and calories. As a result, researchers thought they would test the effects of a small daily portion of polyphenol-rich cocoa on blood pressure, in hopes it should not increase the other risks.

The study recruits included 44 adults ages 56 to 73, comprised of 24 women and 20 men. The participants had untreated upper range prehypertension (blood pressure ranging from 130/85 to 139/89) or stage 1 hypertension (140/90 to 160/100), but no other associated risk factors. The participants were randomly assigned to take 30 calories/day of dark chocolate (about the size of a Hershey’s Kiss) containing 30 mg of polyphenols, or a matching dose of white chocolate that did not contain polyphenols for 18 weeks.

The results showed the following:

  • Participants lowered their blood pressure by approximately three points for the systolic and two points for the diastolic measurement.
  • These reductions were not accompanied by changes in body weight, plasma levels of lipids or glucose.
  • The proportion of participants with hypertension who ate dark chocolate went down from 86% to 68%.
  • The dark chocolate group also had increased levels of plasma biomarkers: cocoa phenols and vasodilatory S-nitrosoglutathione.
  • The systolic and diastolic blood pressure of the participants who ate white chocolate did not change.

Of course, this is very comforting news. However, before we head to the store to pick up our bulk order of candy bars, consider this: the study authors recommend limiting daily dark-chocolate consumption to a very small portion. Think one small piece, not unlimited amounts. Also, please keep in mind that being successful at lowering blood pressure often involves more significant lifestyle modifications, such as increasing exercise and reducing sodium intake. While it’s not the magic bullet we’re all looking for, indulging in a bit of dark chocolate is a heart-healthy habit that should be an easy task for most of us!

References:

“Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Dirk Taubert, Renate Roesen, Clara Lehmann, Norma Jung, and Edgar Schömig. JAMA. 2007;298:49-60. Vol. 298 No. 1, July 4, 2007

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