Study lead author Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong is a cardiologist at Baylor College of Medicine.
“Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy,” said Dr. Krittanawong.
“In the past, clinical studies have shown that chocolate is beneficial for both blood pressure and the lining of blood vessels. I wanted to see if it affects the blood vessels supplying the heart (the coronary arteries) or not. And if it does, is it beneficial or harmful?”
The team analyzed research on the relationship between chocolate consumption and coronary artery blockage. The analysis was focused on six studies published over the last five decades, involving a total of 336,289 participants.
During a follow-up period of eight years, 14,043 participants developed coronary artery disease and 4,667 had a heart attack.
The researchers determined that, compared with individuals who ate chocolate less than once a week, those who consumed chocolate more than once a week had an eight-percent reduced risk of developing coronary artery disease.
“Chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol,” said Dr. Krittanawong.
He noted that the study did not examine whether any particular type of chocolate is more beneficial or if there is an ideal portion size. Further research is needed to explore the underlying mechanisms of chocolate’s cardioprotective effects.
“Chocolate appears promising for prevention of coronary artery disease, but more research is needed to pinpoint how much and what kind of chocolate could be recommended.”
Despite the potential health benefits, Dr. Krittanawong warned against overeating.
“Moderate amounts of chocolate seem to protect the coronary arteries but it’s likely that large quantities do not. The calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products need to be considered, particularly in diabetics and obese people.”
Dr. Krittanawong recently led a separate study that revealed the heart health benefits of meditation. The researchers found that meditation lowered the risk of high cholesterol by 35 percent, diabetes by 30 percent, stroke by 24 percent, and lowered the risk of coronary artery disease by 49 percent.
The study is published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.