For certain people at high risk of future heart disease and diabetes, eating dark chocolate once a day could help prevent heart attacks or stroke, according to new Australian research.
Chocolate containing at least 60 percent cocoa solids is rich in flavonoids, which are compounds known to help protect the heart. Milk chocolate and white chocolate, with lower levels of flavonoids, do not have the same health properties.
Several short-term studies have demonstrated dark chocolate’s blood-pressure and cholesterol-lowering effects, but the long-term effects have not been studied.
Researchers from Monash University, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne used a mathematical model to look at the long-term health benefits of consuming dark chocolate for people with metabolic syndrome.
People with metabolic syndrome have high blood pressure, and are at high risk of developing heart disease or diabetes in the future.
A total of 2,013 people with metabolic syndrome were included in the Australian study. Though they had high blood pressure, none were taking medication to lower it, and none had diabetes.
The researchers found that if dark chocolate was consumed every day, over a 10-year period, 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal heart attacks or strokes per 10,000 people treated could be prevented.
Even if dark chocolate was consumed slightly less often, a significant number of heart attacks and strokes could still be prevented, the researchers reported.
For the medical profession, this could be a cost-effective strategy to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients with metabolic syndrome.
A budget of AU$40 (US$39) per patient per year for advertising, educational campaigns, or even subsidizing dark chocolate was considered worth investing for the savings that would be made on the potential costs of treating heart attack patients.
The research was published online in the British Medical Journal on May 31.
Read the research paper here.
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