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Moderate chocolate consumption may lower risks of heart failure PDF Print E-mail

Middle-aged and elderly Swedish women who regularly ate a small amount of chocolate had lower risks of heart failure risks, in a study reported in Circulation: Heart Failure, a journal of the American Heart Association.

While studies relating chocolate to heart health have been conducted before, this is the first one that examines the long-term effects of eating chocolate on heart failure rates.

The nine-year study, conducted among 31,823 middle-aged and elderly Swedish women, looked at the relationship of the amount of high-quality chocolate the women ate, compared to their risk for heart failure. The quality of chocolate consumed by the women had a higher density cocoa content somewhat like dark chocolate by American standards. In this study, researchers found:

• Women who ate an average of one to two servings of the high-quality chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure.

•  Those who had one to three servings per month had a 26 percent lower risk.

• Those who consumed at least one serving daily or more didn’t appear to benefit from a protective effect against heart failure.

The lack of a protective effect among women eating chocolate every day is probably due to the additional calories gained from eating chocolate instead of more nutritious foods, said Murrray Mittleman, M.D., Dr.P.H., lead researcher of the study.

High concentration of compounds called “flavonoids” in chocolate may lower blood pressure, among other benefits, according to mostly short-term studies. This is the first study to show long-term outcomes related specifically to heart failure, which can result from ongoing untreated high blood pressure. 

In the observational study, researchers analyzed self-reported food-frequency questionnaire responses from participants 48-to-83-years-old in the Swedish Mammography Cohort. 

Combining the results with data from national Swedish hospitalization and death registries between 1998 through 2006, the researchers used multiple forms of statistical modeling to reach their conclusions on heart failure and chocolate consumption.

Researchers note that chocolate quality affects the study’s implications for Americans. In Sweden, even milk chocolate has a higher cocoa concentration than dark chocolate sold in the United States.

So, by comparison, American chocolate may have fewer heart benefits and more calories and fat per equivalent amounts of cocoa content compared to the chocolate eaten by the Swedish women in the study.

The average serving size for Swedish women in the study ranged from 19 grams among those 62 and older, to 30 grams among those 61 and younger. In contrast, the standard American portion size is 20 grams.

“Those tempted to use these data as their rationale for eating large amounts of chocolate or engaging in more frequent chocolate consumption are not interpreting this study appropriately,” said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., immediate past chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. 

Heart failure occurs among about one percent of Americans over age 65. A condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body, heart failure rates are increasing as our aging population grows.