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Support your heart with chocolate

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 by: Celeste M. Smucker, MPH, PhD
Tags: chocolate, heart health, catechins

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(NaturalNews) Recent recommendations from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology expanding the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs to a whole new segment of our population underline the medical community's continued reliance on pharmaceuticals for treating symptoms of heart disease. This recommendation comes in spite of ample evidence supporting the effectiveness of lifestyle and diet changes. Dark chocolate and cocoa are great examples of ordinary foods that can have a big impact on wellness and, in this instance, heart health.

Catechins are the key

Foods correlated with indicators of good health such as lower BMI, blood pressure or cholesterol usually have a goodly concentration of antioxidants that are essential for neutralizing free radicals and preventing inflammation.

Chocolate contains two kinds of antioxidants, catechins and epicatechins, which have been linked to a number of favorable outcomes associated with heart health. While all chocolate has catechins, dark chocolate has a significantly higher concentration. For example, while 100 grams of dark chocolate has 12 milligrams of catechins, a comparable amount of milk chocolate has only 2.1. The same piece of dark chocolate has 41.5 milligrams of epicatechins to just 6.3 milligrams in milk chocolate. Green tea, apples, black grapes and cherries also contain epicatechins but nowhere near as many as are in dark chocolate.

Chocolate and body mass index

Body mass index (BMI) can be a predictor of heart disease risk, and lower scores have been correlated with chocolate consumption in both adults and adolescents.

In an effort to determine if the calories in chocolate would be offset by its health benefits, researchers studied a group of over 1000 adults between 20 and 85 years of age with no known evidence of heart disease, diabetes or high LDL cholesterol. Results showed that people who ate more chocolate ate more calories but still had lower BMI scores. The results continued to hold even when controlling for other confounding factors such as activity levels.

Similar results were found in a 2013 study of adolescents, BMI and chocolate intake. Using data collected for a study of European adolescents between 12.5 and 17.5 years, researchers looked at the relationship between chocolate intake and BMI, and two other measures of body fat. Results showed a positive correlation between chocolate consumption and reductions in total and central body fat while controlling for activity levels and other confounding factors.

Chocolate and blood pressure

Control of hypertension is another piece of the cardiac health puzzle, and one which is frequently handled with medication, though evidence supports the effectiveness of dietary changes.

A 2010 report based on a meta-analysis of 15 qualifying studies demonstrated a connection between chocolate and blood pressure. Using the pooled data from these studies, the scientists concluded that dark chocolate or cocoa produces a mild but statistically significant reduction in blood pressure when compared to controls.

In another study, conducted in 2011, 16 subjects with pre-hypertension received dark chocolate for 15 days while a control group ate white chocolate. Both groups showed decreases in blood pressure, but the dark chocolate group had a significantly greater drop in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group. Nitric oxide, which is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure, was also increased in the dark chocolate group.

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About the author:
Celeste Smucker is a freelance health writer and blogger with years of experience in sales and marketing. She is also a meditation teacher and staff member at Synchronicity Foundation located in Virginia's blue ridge mountains.

In addition to writing for NaturalNews.com she blogs about how to live younger longer with joy and vitality at celestialways.com.

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