Chocolate has long been viewed as not so good for one’s health. From causing tooth decay to offering extra calories that are hard to burn, chocolate received in our minds the statute of a guilty pleasure one savors in secret. A recent study tends to tell a different story and puts chocolate in the first line of heart disease prevention.
The study directly associated chocolate intake with a reduced risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common arrhythmia identified in clinical practice, a common nuisance for patients over a certain age. The correlations emerged inside The Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study, a larger effort to identify the impact of individual foods on health over the years. More than 55,000 citizens took part in the study, sharing lifestyle information and allowing access to their full medical records, 13 years of gathering and analyzing data gave weight to a conclusion that brought both joy and relief.
Moderate regular chocolate intake (1-3 servings/month) can reduce the risk of developing flutter by up to 20%. Although the study did not differentiate between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, the consumer habits of the sample populations tend to suggest that chocolate with a minimum of 30% cocoa content is the one responsible for the observed positive effect. The study defined a serving as 1 ounce of chocolate (approximately 30 grams).
Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s upper chambers (the two atria) go out of sync with the rest of the organ. Although not life threatening in itself, it has been proven numerous times that AF can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart conditions. AF goes as far as increasing the risk of stroke by 5 times.
Like many other similar studies that identify unusual properties about foods that people eat on a daily basis, the one praising chocolate as good for the heart has a couple of limitations. First, the researchers were not able to correlate the positive effect with the actual cocoa content, the ingredient of chocolate believed to hold the active ingredients. Second, although meticulously recorded between 1993 and 1997, the diet of the participants does not exclude another food as responsible for the risk reduction. Third, the study was made on a local level involving predominantly a Caucasian population. If it is to be taken for granted, the research needs to tap into larger numbers and better-defined variables.
Eating chocolate is by no means a panacea. A 2010 study conducted in the San Diego area is strong to suggest that people who eat more chocolate have a greater risk of developing depression. Nevertheless, the conclusion relied on a smaller sample (less than 1,000 individuals) and it was not clear on whether the mental condition itself was urging people to self-medicate with more chocolate. The critical threshold for the onset of depression symptoms was ruled at 8.4 servings per month.
Chocolate being good for heart health seems to be a dream come true for those having a hard time staying away from this temptation. However, it needs to be stressed again that the positive effects only occurred at moderate intakes, levels which most of us easily surpass.