Chocolate consumption may lower heart disease risk

Chocolate

Both milk chocolate and dark chocolate contain cocoa, but dark chocolate has a higher concentration, and could be more potent in protecting heart health. After adjusting other factors connected with heart disease, the rate of atrial fibrillation that was newly diagnosed was 10 percent lower for 1-3 chocolate servings in a month than it was for less than a single serving in a month.

Eating up to six servings of chocolate per week led to a 20 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) - a common and risky type of irregular heartbeat.

Previous research had linked eating chocolates, especially dark chocolate, to improvements in heart health.

However, doctors from the Duke Centre for Atrial Fibrillation in North Carolina have urged caution, highlighting 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. However, they did not have to detail what kind of chocolate they consumed.

So if you're one of the millions of people who has atrial fibrillation, don't count on chocolate to resolve your medical problem.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on atrial fibrillation.

Where did the story come from?

Especially when the mainstream news media so often (and usually so superficially) tells us "science has shown" that numerous other foods we love (red meat, sugar, to name just a couple) are probably harmful. Factors such as regular aerobic exercise and other healthy behaviors "could be a benefit as well", said Friedman, who is chief of heart failure services at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y.

The study was covered widely in the United Kingdom media.

When it comes to diet studies, this is a big limitation, and the researchers noted it as such: "As with any study using self-reported exposure information, there is a concern of poor recall".


What kind of research was this?

While the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between eating chocolate and lowered risk of atrial fibrillation, it is possible that compounds in chocolates - flavonoids - could play a role.

What did the research involve?

Each person had to fill in a questionnaire diet and lifestyle too. The results were similar for men and women but the amount of chocolate consumed varied. Researchers considered study participants' body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol, which were measured at the time participants were recruited, between December 1993 and May 1997. However, these differences were small and may be down to chance and the fact that fewer women had AF. These were 17% lower for 1 weekly serving, 20% for 2 to 6 weekly servings, and 16% lower for 1 or more daily servings. They say they adjusted the figures using "extensive data" on diet, lifestyle and other illnesses, but that "we can not preclude the possibility of residual or unmeasured confounding".

The study tracked the chocolate eating habits of 55,000 people in Denmark for 13 years. Not only does this inform readers of the realities of science, it helps explain why we so often see future studies contradict the earlier ones.

Eating chocolate in moderate servings may possibly help reduce atrial fibrillation risks. The claim can be helpful since the condition of heart flutter or irregular heartbeats affects 33 million people across the globe.

Up to 500,000 people in Britain - around a third of sufferers - are unaware they have the condition, which dramatically increases the risk of stroke.

While the study had some strengths, such as being very large, using a reliable database and taking account of a number of confounding factors, this type of study can not show that chocolate actually prevents AF.

The Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study examined over 50,000 people between the ages of 50 and 64 who were asked to provide information about their weekly chocolate consumption.

It's worth remembering that - as well as cocoa - chocolate contains a lot of fat and sugar.

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