As if we needed another excuse to treat ourselves, it now seems eating chocolate could reduce our risk of developing a dodgy ticker. Regularly tucking into chocolate might lower the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition where the heart beats irregularly, causing a ‘fluttering’ sensation in the chest.
The association between chocolate consumption and reduced risk was strongest with two to six servings per week for men, but unfortunately for women looking for a guilt-free snack it was just one serving per week, with one serving being 30g, just less than a regular-sized chocolate bar.
The findings, published in the journal Heart, are the most recent in a series of suggestions that chocolate is good for you. The results show an association (not cause and effect) between chocolate and reduced AF risk, but exactly how chocolate might prevent atrial fibrillation is still a bit of a mystery. “Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed in our sample probably contained relatively low concentrations of the potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a robust statistically significant association," the researchers say.
The study, conducted by Danish and American researchers, used data from the Diet, Cancer and Health Study in Denmark to monitor an impressive 55,000 people over an average of 13.5 years. In that time, over 3,300 new cases of atrial fibrillation were diagnosed. Detailed information about diet and lifestyle has been collected since participants were recruited between 1993-1997, including how frequently they ate chocolate.
This allowed other risk factors for heart disease including alcohol intake, blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol levels to be taken into account. Women were found to be the lucky ones, with a lower incidence of atrial fibrillation regardless of chocolate intake, but even after these influencing factors were considered, the rate of atrial fibrillation diagnosis was 10 per cent lower in people who ate between one and three servings of chocolate per month than in people who ate less than one serving per month. Most significantly, women who ate one weekly serving had a 21 per cent lower risk of developing the disease, and the risk for men who ate two to six weekly servings was 23 per cent lower.
Of course, moderation is always key, so don’t make any drastic diet changes just yet. Be wary of eating chocolate in high calorie snacks with a lot of fat and sugar, as these are more likely to be bad for your heart. Doctors from the Duke Center for Atrial Fibrillation in North Carolina are keen to point out in an associated editorial that the people in the study who ate chocolate were generally healthier, which could have affected the findings. In addition, the study did not distinguish the type of chocolate eaten, but most chocolate in Denmark contains a minimum of 30 per cent cocoa solids, so we’re talking treats a bit darker than ordinary Dairy Milk, which contains around 23 per cent.
However with 25 per cent of adults likely to develop atrial fibrillation over time, doctors Sean Pokorney and Jonathan Piccini from the Duke Center say “the findings are interesting and warrant further consideration, especially given the importance of identifying effective prevention strategies”.