Chocolate and Blood Pressure

There are so many things that are fixable with chocolate -- and blood pressure is now on the list, according to a recent study.

You'd think that "chocolate" and "blood pressure" would be terms that shouldn't belong in the same sentence, except perhaps in a negative context. But according to a recent study, that isn't so. It turns out that chocolate can have a soothing effect on blood pressure.

Chocolate as medicine: now, that's pretty extreme... the stuff of daydreams, perhaps. But it does appear to be the truth, according to science, so we're not going to argue about it!

The GIHN Study

On March 30, 2010, the German Institute of Human Nutrition released the results of a ten-year study of 20,000 patients, revealing that those who ate a little chocolate daily had lower blood pressure than those who didn't -- not to mention a 39% lower risk of strokes and heart disease.

If this sounds like someone's idea of an April Fool's joke, given the suspicious dateline, you're not the only one to think so. However, the folks at the GIHN are apparently in earnest. They say that as little as a quarter-ounce of chocolate is enough to do the trick.

Why can't doctors conduct studies like this in the United States? Or maybe the better question is, why haven't we forced doctors to conduct studies like this in the United States, hmmm?

How It Works

Apparently, organic chemicals called "flavanols" are responsible for chocolate's heart-healthy goodness. According to Dr. Brian Buijsse, who directed the study, flavanols increase the availability of nitrous oxide to the cells that line the inner walls of blood vessels.

Apparently, this makes the cells happy, so blood pressure falls, lowering the risk of myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke. The risk reduction is higher for MI, since blood pressure has a more pronounced affect on MI than on stroke.

The flavanols may also help vascular tissues and blood platelets do their jobs better, which reduces wear on the circulatory system.

The Breakdown

No doubt you're wondering if the amount or type of chocolate matters... and in fact, both do. First off, the higher the cocoa content, the better; in other words, dark chocolate works the very best, especially that containing more than 70% cocoa. White chocolate has no affect at all, since it lacks cocoa altogether.

And yes, the amount matters -- up to a point. Sadly, that point is just 6 grams, which is about half of one of those little chocolate Easter eggs. Above that point, you have to worry about the calories and saturated fats in the chocolate, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

So the lesson here is that chocolate and blood pressure do have a healthy correlation, but only if you can somehow limit yourself to a tiny amount of ambrosia per day.

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