Australian scientists have found that daily consumption of dark chocolate can reduce cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, in people with metabolic syndrome – a cluster of factors that increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
A study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows that dark chocolate’s blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering qualities made it a cheap intervention strategy for the 30 per cent of the Australian population at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers said that daily dark chocolate consumption may prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people over a 10-year period.
“The study was the first to examine the long-term health benefits of flavanoids, which are found in dark chocolate and known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol,”said lead author Ella Zomer, a PhD student at Monash University.
“We’ve predicted significant health benefits of eating 100g of dark chocolate every day over a 10 year period. That’s about the equivalent of one premium-quality block containing a minimum 70 per cent cocoa.”
“Our findings indicate dark chocolate therapy could provide an alternative to or be used to complement drug therapeutics in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease,” Zomer added.
Cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
“We’re not suggesting that the high-risk group use dark chocolate as their only preventative measure, but in combination with sensible choices, such as exercise,” Zomer said.
The team used a mathematical model to predict the long-term health effects and cost effectiveness of daily dark chocolate consumption in 2013 people already at high risk of heart disease. Participants had no history of heart disease or diabetes and were not on blood pressure-lowering therapy.
The findings suggest that investing about 42 USD per person, per year on dark chocolate-related health strategies, including advertising and promotion, would be beneficial to the wider population in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Zomer said enriched dark chocolate varieties with high flavonoid levels may also allow consumers to obtain the health benefits with lower levels of chocolate consumption.
Bibliographic information: Ella Zomer, Alice Owen, Dianna J Magliano, Danny Liew, Christopher M Reid. 2012. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ 2012; 344 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e3657