April 2015 - Perlman Clinic

Eat Your Dark Chocolate?

4/8/2015 - written by Perlman Clinic

People who recommend daily chocolate consumption as a healthy, preventative practice tend to arouse suspicion. Things that are good for you generally should not taste so good. Claims have been made that dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, antithrombotic, and metabolic effects. After an extensive literature review we have decided that thankfully, there is supporting evidence.

Daily Dark Chocolate Consumption Lowers Blood Pressure

An article in the journal Hypertension shares the fascinating example of the Kuna Islanders. “The Kuna Indians live on the San Blas Islands off Panama. They consume large quantities of cocoa, and, despite high sodium intake, have a low prevalence of hypertension. Their blood pressure does not rise with age. Kuna Indians who migrate to Panama manifest age-dependent increases of blood pressure and a higher prevalence of hypertension than Kuna Islanders. Thus, Kuna are not genetically protected from hypertension. Kuna Islanders consume ≈10 times more cocoa than those in Panama and have ≈80% less cardiovascular disease.”

One analysis of several research studies found that those who were given supplemental cocoa had an average decrease in blood pressure of -4.7/2.8 mmHg. This decrease is comparable to moderate exercise which can lower systolic blood pressure 4-9mm Hg. The authors remarked that this change in blood pressure would decrease the risk of stroke by 20%, heart disease by 10% and mortality by 8%. However, a more recent meta-analysis found the decreases in blood pressure were only significant for those who already had elevated blood pressure above 140/80.

Dark Chocolate Can Lower Cholesterol

A large review of 8 trials found cocoa could also lower LDL (bad cholesterol) by 5.87 mg/dL. Interestingly, this was only seen at low doses of cocoa (one ounce or less of dark chocolate) and in those who already had risks for cardiovascular disease. HDL (good cholesterol) did not change with chocolate nor did LDL in healthy participants. While this sounds small, the authors stated every mg/dL reduction in LDL will decrease the cardiovascular disease risk by 1%.

For those already at risk, it appears the research supports daily consumption of dark chocolate to help decrease blood pressure and cholesterol. One limiting factor in the current research is the type and quantity in the studies varied widely. In general, it would be best to eat roughly one ounce of dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. Another limitation in this research is that the trials on this topic are all short term, lasting 2-18 weeks. Yet with an intervention this delicious, it is an experiment we are anxious to perform ourselves.