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Effect of Chocolate on Hypertension
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contains a number of active compounds that may explain its positive effect on blood pressure. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants in the flavonol family, substances similar to those found in green tea, red wine, grapes, soy and other potentially healthful foods. Besides flavonols, chocolate contains a fat called stearic acid. Although it is a saturated fat, stearic acid is hypothesized to have cardiovascular-preventive benefits.
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Research Evidence on Chocolate
A controlled study of 20 males with mild hypertension compared the effects of 100 g daily of a flavonol-rich dark chocolate as compared to a flavonol-free white chocolate.1 Results appeared to indicate that the dark chocolate produced improvements in blood pressure.
A subsequent study of similar design, this one enrolling 44 people with mild hypertension, found that a much lower dose of dark chocolate (6.3 g daily), also significantly reduced blood pressure levels.11 And, a review including several additional studies drew the same conclusion regarding chocolate’s modest yet favorable effect on blood pressure.12
How to Use Chocolate
The bottom line in selecting chocolate is to opt for darker chocolate, rather than milk or white chocolate. Also, be sure to choose natural chocolate rather than processed chocolate (i.e. Snickers), because processed chocolate nearly always contains High Fructose Corn Syrup, which tends to have a detrimental impact on hypertension (Hypertension and High Fructose Corn Syrup.) As for dosage, the beneficial amounts used in two of the studies discussed here were 6.3 g and 100 g.
The typical daily dose of flavanols from chocolate thought to offer a beneficial effect range widely from 30 to 500 mg per day. The flavanol content of chocolate itself also varies widely. White chocolate contains little to no flavanols, commercial dark chocolate can contain as much as 500-2,000 mg of flavonols per 100 grams of chocolate. Special flavonol-enriched forms of chocolate are also available.
Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment
- Holistic dietitian or nutritionist
- Integrative MD
- Naturopathic doctor
As a widely consumed food, chocolate is assumed to have a high safety factor. However, because of its caffeine and theobromine content, it would be expected to have potential side effects similar to those of coffee and black tea , namely: heartburn, gastritis, insomnia, anxiety, and heart arrhythmias (benign palpitations or more serious disturbances of heart rhythm.) 1 All drug interactions that can occur with caffeine would be expected to occur with chocolate as well.
Most chocolate products are high in calories, and therefore could lead to weight gain.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking:
- MAO inhibitors : The caffeine in chocolate could cause dangerous drug interactions.
- Stimulant drugs such as Ritalin: The stimulant effects of chocolate might be amplified.
- Drugs to prevent heart arrhythmias or treat insomnia, heartburn, ulcers, or anxiety: Chocolate might interfere with their action.
- Cannon ME, Cooke CT, McCarthy JS. Caffeine-induced cardiac arrhythmia: an unrecognised danger of healthfood products. Med J Aust. 174(10):520-1.
- Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C et al. Cocoa Reduces Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance and Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasodilation in Hypertensives. Hypertension. 2005 Jul 18. [Epub ahead of print]
- Taubert D, MD, Roesen R, Lehmann C, et al. Effects of low habitual cocoa intake on blood pressure and bioactive nitric oxide. JAMA. 2007;298:49-60.
- Hooper L, Kroon PA, Rimm EB, et al. Flavonoids, flavonoid-rich foods, and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88:38-50.
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