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If you’re a chocoholic, rejoice!
Harvard researchers have found that chocolate consumption may be linked to lower the odds for a common and potentially dangerous heart condition called atrial fibrillation or AFib. The associations seemed to be strongest for 1 weekly serving for women and between 2 and 6 weekly servings for men, the findings suggest.
Mostofsky and her colleagues analyzed a large Danish database of 55,502 men and women, combing through information on their dietary habits and health conditions recorded at the start of the Danish diet and cancer study. The scientists analyzed later health diagnoses, too, gleaned from a national patient database.
During the monitoring period, which averaged 13.5 years, 3346 new cases of atrial fibrillation were diagnosed. After accounting for other factors related to heart disease, the newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation rate was 10 per cent lower for 1-3 servings of chocolate a month than it was for less than 1 serving a month.
This difference was also apparent at other levels of consumption: 17% lower for 1 weekly serving; 20 per cent lower for 2-6 weekly servings; and 14 per cent lower for 1 or more daily servings.
When the data were analyzed by sex, the incidence of atrial fibrillation was lower among women than among men irrespective of intake, but the associations between higher chocolate intake and lower risk of heart flutter remained even after accounting for potentially influential factors.
The strongest association for women seemed to be 1 weekly serving of chocolate (21 per cent lower risk), while for men, it was 2 to 6 weekly servings (23 per cent lower risk).
This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which milk may lower levels of the beneficial compounds in chocolate thought to have a role in the favorable associations found between chocolate and heart health.
And more often than not, chocolate is eaten in high calorie products containing fat and sugar, which are generally not considered good for heart health.
However, a linked editorial sounds a note of caution. Doctors from the Duke Center for Atrial Fibrillation in North Carolina, USA, highlight that the chocolate eaters in the study were healthier and more highly educated – factors associated with better general health – which might have influenced the findings.
Secondly, the researchers were not able to take account of other risk factors for atrial fibrillation, such as kidney disease and breathing problems at night (sleep apnea). And the study included only diagnosed cases of atrial fibrillation, making it difficult to determine if chocolate is associated with a lower risk of atrial fibrillation or only with obvious symptoms, the editorialists suggest.
Lastly, cocoa solid levels vary in different parts of the world, so the findings might not apply in countries with lower levels, they add.