Does Chocolate Prevent Heart Disease?
Is it true that eating chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease?
Andrew Weil, M.D. |September 15, 2020
Maybe. An investigation published in July (2020) in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease. Research leader, Chayakrit Krittanawong, M.D. of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said the findings suggest that certain compounds found in chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy. The researchers analyzed six studies from the past five decades to examine links between chocolate consumption and coronary artery disease. The studies included data on 336,289 participants who reported their chocolate consumption.
During a follow up of nearly nine years, 14,043 participants developed coronary artery disease and 4,667 had a heart attack.
Dr. Krittanawong wrote that in the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels. He wanted to see if and how it might affect the coronary arteries.
He noted that chocolate contains heart-healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid, which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol). The analysis didn’t examine whether any particular type of chocolate is more beneficial and whether there is an ideal portion size. Dr. Krittanawong concluded that chocolate appears promising for prevention of coronary artery disease, but more research is needed to determine how much and what kind of chocolate would be best. He also wrote that while moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries, large quantities probably don’t and warned that the calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people.
I should note that a four-year-long randomized trial of chocolate’s effect on health is being conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It is designed to determine whether the flavanols (phytonutrients) in cocoa really do protect against heart disease, stroke, dementia, memory loss, macular degeneration, cataracts, and other health problems. The trial, called the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcome Study (COSMOS, for short), is also looking at the potential anticancer benefits of taking a daily multivitamin.
Based on what we now know about chocolate and health, I recommend limiting yourself to an ounce several times a week. I enjoy high-quality dark chocolate from France, Belgium and Venezuela. I find that a little piece is a satisfying snack or after-dinner treat. If you can’t find good imported chocolate, look for a domestic brand containing at least 70 percent cocoa.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Chayakrit Krittanawong et al, “Chocolate is good for the heart“ European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, July 22, 2020, escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Chocolate-is-good-for-the-heart