Indulge: Dark Chocolate Reduces Systemic Inflammation and Boosts Your Heart Health
Over the course of the last decade, nutritionists and health researchers have been uncovering the many benefits of eating dark chocolate, due largely to the flavanols found in cocoa.
Two new independent studies support prior works showing how cocoa lowers inflammation levels to promote heart health. Researchers in the Netherlands have released the results of their work in The FASEB Journal that explains how eating dark chocolate reduces the risk of atherosclerosis, the thickening and hardening of the arteries, by restoring flexibility of the arteries and preventing white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessel walls.
To conduct this study, researchers analyzed 44 overweight men aged between 45 and 70 years. The participants were asked not to eat other foods high in calories during the study period in an attempt to prevent them from gaining weight. Over the course of eight weeks, the men consumed either 70 gm of regular dark chocolate each day or 70 gm of a specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content. Flavanols are a naturally occurring antioxidant found in some plants, including the cocoa plant. Both chocolates were similar in their cocoa content, and the vascular health of the participants was assessed both at the baseline and end of the study period.
Two Daily Squares of Dark Chocolate Help Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Heart Attack
This research demonstrated that eating the dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70 to 80 percent cocoa flavanols) increases endothelium-dependent vasodilatation, or the elastic ability of the artery to expand and contract. Additionally the team found that the chocolate consumption decreased the leukocyte (white blood cell) count, a marker of systemic inflammation and also reduced leukocyte adhesion marker expression. This lowers the risk of a thrombus or clumping of cells in the blood that can develop into a clot, one of the key factors that lead to a heart attack.
Lowering these three risk factors means the consumption of dark chocolate lowered participants’ risk of atherosclerosis, a condition that can be caused by arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion. The study authors concluded, “We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health… However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one.” The participants in this study ate the equivalent of two moderate sized squares of dark chocolate each day to achieve the beneficial results noted. Always check the cocoa content when choosing dark chocolate to ensure a high flavanol level and avoid milk chocolate and low cocoa content products that contain little more than sugar to maximize the heart healthy benefits.
Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. and most western cultures, despite the overwhelming volumes of evidence that clearly demonstrate how this killer develops as a result of poor diet, lack of physical activity and a multitude of lifestyle digressions that have been repeatedly documented by nutritional researchers. In addition to eliminating hydrogenated fats, trans fats and processed foods from the diet, scientists have shown that natural nutrients such as omega-3 fats, resveratrol, vitamin D and EGCG from green tea all reduce oxidative stress and squelch inflammatory cytokines that wreak havoc and perpetuate many chronic disease processes throughout the body.
John Phillip is a diet, health and nutrition researcher and writer with a passion for understanding weight loss challenges and encouraging health modification through natural diet, lifestyle and targeted supplementation. John’s passion is to research and write about the cutting edge alternative health technologies that affect our lives.
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