Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 140,000 succumbing to the condition. Heart disease claims even more lives, as the leading cause of death, accounting for one in every four deaths in the U.S. We all know that diet and exercise have a lot to do with these two causes of death, but, what if I told you that eating dark chocolate could also work to prevent them?
Both stroke and heart disease are considered cardiovascular diseases in that they affect the system of vessels and blood transportation throughout the body. In poor vascular health, inflammation is an issue, as inflammation of the tissues within this system of the body is a risk factor for the various forms of cardiovascular disease. Controlling inflammation, therefore, is crucial.
A marker for inflammation in the blood, C-reactive protein can indicate someone is at a higher risk of heart disease or stroke. So, when researchers in Italy found consumption of dark chocolate to have an effect on this marker, they were pleasantly surprised.
In specific, the researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Nutrition, found that people who eat the ideal amount of 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day have lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood. This amounts to a small ounce square about three times each week.
“We started from the hypothesis that high amounts of antioxidants contained in the cocoa seeds, in particular flavonoids and other kinds of polyphenols, might have beneficial effects on the inflammatory state,” said Romina di Giuseppe, lead author of the study. “Our results have been absolutely encouraging: People having moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood. In other words, their inflammatory state is considerably reduced…The best effect is obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7 grams of chocolate per day, corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week…”
Additionally, further research has shown increased flavonoid consumption (as in dark chocolate) can boost or maintain normal dilation in blood vessels.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study indicating dark chocolate could assist in lowering blood pressure; elevated blood pressure is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Further, dark chocolate may even assist in regulating cholesterol.
Penn State University researchers found it works to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. The oxidation of this cholesterol is the “bad guy”, not the cholesterol itself.
To its credit, cocoa contains powerful antioxidant properties. The benefits from these flavonoids are many and cardiovascular disease prevention is just one of them. To get the most out of your chocolate consumption, steer clear of milk chocolate and instead opt for a high quality organic dark chocolate.