An analysis of 20 studies has found that daily consumption of dark chocolate can slightly lower blood pressure. The reason is flavanols, compounds in cocoa that produce a chemical, nitrous oxide, which helps to relax blood vessels so that blood passes more easily through them.
The UK-based Cochrane Collaboration, which reviews research to investigate the effectiveness of health claims, conducted the analysis. NPR sums up the studies, which ranged in length from two to 18 weeks:
Volunteers in the studies consumed dark chocolate or cocoa powder each day ranging from 3 to 100 grams (a regular-size 1.5-ounce Hershey bar is about 43 grams). And the results? Overall, there were small reductions in blood pressure, averaging 2-3 mm Hg. (Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury.)
The reduction in blood pressure from eating dark chocolate is modest and eating it is no substitute for taking medication. Another study in The Lancet medical journal notes that dark chocolate may not (alas!) contain as many flavanols as thought: while it tends to have a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate and therefore more flavanols, these tend to be removed to lessen bitterness.
Nonetheless, as Karin Ried, from the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, says in the BBC, some dark chocolate consumption could “complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
High blood pressure has been linked to about 54 percent of strokes worldwide and about 47 cases of coronary heart disease. Treatments include medication and, generally, directives not to eat this or that (to lower sodium intake, for instance), so being told you could add something (and chocolate, at that) has its advantages.
The analysis adds to a small but growing collection of studies finding health benefits in chocolate. Other research noted by NPR has found that cocoa contains compounds which can “inhibit the activity of a digestive enzyme and block the breakdown of fat.”
Archaeologists have found evidence — traces of 2,500-year-old chocolate on a plate instead of a cup — suggesting that the Mayans may have used chocolate as a condiment and not only as a beverage. This finding is possible evidence connecting ancient diets with those in contemporary Mexico and also further suggests that there is something special, even magic, in chocolate. Why else have we been consuming it for millennia?
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