Why chocolate could be just as good for the heart as high blood pressure drugs

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Cocoa proves to be highly beneficial for cardiovascular health — but that doesn’t mean you should be stocking up on chocolate bars.

GUILDFORD, United Kingdom — Studies continue to show that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness just like the best blood pressure medications. However, scientists have had some concern that consuming cocoa when your blood pressure is normal or low could lower it even further. Now, a new study finds there’s nothing to worry about! Researchers in Australia say cocoa only lowers blood pressure when it’s abnormally high.

The new study notes that previous experiments have only looked at cocoa’s beneficial impact on the heart under tightly controlled conditions. This has made it unclear as to whether cocoa also lowers blood pressure in already healthy people. For people who love chocolate, this doesn’t mean you should run out to the store and buy a case of Hershey bars. Chocolate that contains higher levels of cocoa will be the most beneficial — but don’t forget that chocolate treats can also contain high levels of sugar and fat. Any thoughts of using cocoa for lowering blood pressure should be discussed with your doctor first.

Researchers from University of Surrey says their study is one of the first to look at cocoa consumption and its impact on the heart in a real-world scenario.

“High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increases a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes, so it is crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat such conditions,” says Christian Heiss, a professor of cardiovascular medicine, in a university release.

“Before we even consider introducing cocoa into clinical practices, we need to test if the results previously reported in laboratory settings safely translate into real-world settings, with people going about their everyday lives.”

Cuckoo for cocoa: Your gut loves metabolizing chocolate

In their study, 11 healthy people consumed six cocoa flavanol capsules or six placebo capsules on alternate days for a week. Each participant received an upper arm blood pressure monitor and a finger clip measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) — which gauges a patient’s arterial stiffness.

The group took these readings every 30 minutes after consuming cocoa or the brown sugar placebos for three hours. They continued to monitor their blood pressure and pulse wave velocity hourly for another nine hours after that.

READ: 5 Health Benefits Of Eating Chocolate — Yes, It’s Good For You, According To Science

Results show that consuming cocoa only led to lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness in participants where those readings were already high. There was no effect when blood pressure was low in the morning.

Moreover, the study was also the first to find an additional peak in cocoa’s beneficial effect eight hours after consumption. The team believes this second peak in the readings likely has a connection to how bacteria in the gut metabolizes cocoa flavanols.

“The positive impact cocoa flavanols have on our cardiovascular system, in particular, blood vessel function and blood pressure, is undeniable. Doctors often fear that some blood pressure tablets can decrease the blood pressure too much on some days,” Prof. Heiss concludes. “What we have found indicates that cocoa flavanols only decrease blood pressure if it is elevated. Working with participants’ personal health technologies showed us how variable blood pressure and arterial stiffness can be from day to day and shows the role of personal health monitors in developing and implementing effective personalized care.”

Previous research has shown that eating chocolate in the morning can actually help individuals burn fat faster. The study finds eating chocolate for breakfast can increase fat burning ability. It also reduces blood glucose levels, a key measure for people at risk from diabetes. At night, eating chocolate before bed led to changes in the participants’ resting and exercise metabolism the following morning.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

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