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Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure
A study shows dark chocolate may lower blood pressure slightly.
August 16th, 2012
11:19 AM ET

Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure

Eating a little dark chocolate each day may be good for the heart, but only if you grab your running shoes in one hand and an apple in the other.

New research found that people who ate dark chocolate or cocoa for short periods of time saw a slight drop in blood pressure. But there is a caveat: If you eat these treats, you need to make sure you're doing all of the right things to stay healthy, such as exercising, eating right and - if you're on blood pressure medicine - taking that as well.

The study

Scientists in Melbourne, Australia, curious about the role of dark chocolate in heart health, looked at 20 studies in which adults ate dark chocolate or cocoa. More than 850 people participated in the trials that generally ran from two to eight weeks.

People ate different amounts of dark chocolate, ranging from a small piece to a large bar or a cup of cocoa, but almost all of the chocolate was high in cocoa - therefore high in antioxidants called flavanols. And that's important because antioxidants play a role in opening up our blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure.

Results

People who ate dark chocolate or cocoa had blood pressure readings that were 2 millimeters of mercury lower than those who ate little or no chocolate. This means that a blood pressure reading of 120/80, for example, dropped to 118/78. This is a small decrease, and scientists say that though chocolate will certainly not replace blood pressure medicines, it may play some role.

"Moderate regular dosages of flavanol-rich cocoa products such as dark chocolate may be part of a comprehensive lifestyle plan to optimizing blood pressure," explains study author Dr. Karin Ried, Research Director of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine, Melbourne, Australia.

But experts aren't sure what this means in the long run.

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"We do not know yet whether dark chocolate is associated with a reduction in blood pressure in the long term (important since high blood pressure is a chronic condition), and whether this will translate into a reduction in adverse clinical outcomes such as heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Lorri Puil, an editor at the Cochrane Hypertension Group.

The results are published online in the Cochrane Library, which is part of the Cochrane Collaboration that provides internationally recognized research on human health.

Take away

Chocolate is high in fat, calories and sugar so if you eat it, do so in moderation. One suggestion is to substitute dark chocolate for other high-calorie foods or desserts that you already include in your diet. But remember, if eating dark chocolate adds to your overall calories for the day, you'll likely put on weight– which is not good for overall health.

But if you do choose dark chocolate, registered dietitian Rachel K. Johnson, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, offers this advice.

"To control the calories, opt for chocolate with a high cocoa content - look for one 70% or higher. It's intensely flavored, and thus a smaller amount may satisfy you," Johnson says. " If you use cocoa powder in cooking or to make hot chocolate, choose natural cocoa powder rather than alkalized cocoa power (also called Dutch-processed). The natural cocoa power has more of the beneficial flavanols."

But experts say we do have other choices. Apples, blackberries, beans, apricots and green tea are also packed with antioxidants and don't contain the unhealthy fats in chocolate.

Researchers know that despite the pros and cons of eating dark chocolate, that they don't have all of the answers. They do agree that more studies are needed.

A little history

The link between cocoa and blood pressure was first noticed in the indigenous people of San Blas Island in Central America, who drink flavanol-rich cocoa drinks every day and had normal blood pressure no matter their age.

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. ser

    don' we already know this from previous CNN journalism.....next week it will be that dark chocolate causes coronary artery disease...what a joke...

    August 16, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • royal jelly benefits

      At least dark chocolates seem to be the healthier chocolate. I have read before it's also helpful in lowering cholesterol. It's still nice to know that there are some food that you can enjoy while staying healthy.
      Btw, I also heard that royal jelly is also good for lowering blood pressure as it has anti hypertensive properties. Anyone knows about this?
      royal jelly benefits

      October 28, 2012 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
    • royal jelly benefits

      Regarding royal jelly, I just found a helpful site: benefitsofroyaljellyDOTcom. See if that helps.

      October 28, 2012 at 19:08 | Report abuse |
  2. nancy

    Dark chocolate itself does not cause the blood pressure to rise, it's the caffein in it that does. Chocolate, any kind, is loaded with caffein. If the makers can provide a chocolate without caffein that would be wonderful.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dmccalla

      I have good news for you Nancy. My chocolate contains no caffeine. We are the category creators of healthy chocolate and control the worldwide rights to the cold press processing of the cacao beans. One of the steps in this processing is the removal of any caffeine that is inherent in the cacao beans. By cold-pressing the cacao beans, we retain all of the antioxidants and flavanols. We are the only company that has utilized a third party certification program to certify the amount of antioxidants, as well as the amount of flavanols on all of our products. The US Trade Mark and Patent Office recently gave us the patent on the words "healthy chocolate"! I'd be happy to share more information on all 8 of our products.

      August 16, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
    • Juanita Langdon

      Xocai healthy chocolate has no caffine, and not alkalized no wax or fillers it is cold pressed not dutched. Also, no milkfats or artificial ingredients. It is the best I eat 4 or 5 pieces each and every day for over 2 years and don't gain any weight.

      August 16, 2012 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • Peter Langelaar

      Hi Nancy just search for a chocolate that has the higest flavonoid content the higer the better the chocolate i eat a chocolate that's having >800 mg at a 10 gram square they deliver more than printed on their wrappers most of the other company's out there will place that the value's may varray so they also deliver less than on their package that's not integer. always deliver more and look for a organic and fairtrade certified chocolate check out this wall there is a brochure you can read facebook.com/Xocolatlvita

      August 17, 2012 at 05:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Steves

    African American men have been claiming this for years.

    August 16, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. dmccalla

    Unfortunately, the commercial chocolate you find in the stores carries very little of the heart healthy flavanols. The alkalizing and heating process destroys most of the fragile antioxidants, the same as overcooking your vegetables. There is a company that utilizes a patented cold-press process that keeps all of the antioxidants intact. I have 5 to 6 servings of this healthy chocolate every day, and have for 5 years now. As a result, I no longer take pain pills for the arthritis in my hips, have perfect blood pressure, and have been able to raise my HDL without raising my LDL cholesterol. There is a great article on the difference between "good" chocolate and "bad" chocolate at cocoa101.com.

    August 16, 2012 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. louiske

    eating a "little bit" , can't you say how much ? and a little bit of dark chocolate won't make you fat even without sport. Eating "a little bit" of your hamburgers and fried meat without sport will make you fat though.

    August 17, 2012 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Peter Langelaar

    Just check for the less processed chocolate available the les processed the higer the flavonoid content that's why i'm eating a raw organic certified chocolate that's cold pressed at 31 celcius ( unique in the world ) just read the brochure i placed at my wall facebook.com/Xocolatlvita and learn about bad good and the best nr 1 chocolate in the world.

    August 17, 2012 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lauren O'Connell

    Everything in moderation is the key! The more you deprive yourself the more you are going to crave it. I needed to get cholesterol testing and used a new website called DocASAP.com. Check it out!

    August 17, 2012 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.