In good news for all chocolate lovers, a daily dose of dark chocolate could lower the risk of stroke and heart attack, according to new research.
In a study published today in the British Medical Journal, Monash University researchers showed that dark chocolate's blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering qualities made it a cheap (and tasty) intervention strategy for the 30% of the Australian population at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
PhD student Ella Zomer, Professor Christopher Reid, Dr Alice Owen and Dr Dianna Magliano from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, and Professor Danny Liew from The University of Melbourne predicted that daily dark chocolate consumption could prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people over a 10-year period.
Ms Zomer said the study was the first to examine the long-term health benefits of flavanoids, which are found in dark chocolate and known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
“We’ve predicted significant health benefits of eating 100g of dark chocolate every day over a 10 year period. That's about the equivalent of one premium-quality block containing a minimum 70% cocoa," Ms Zomer said.
“Our findings indicate dark chocolate therapy could provide an alternative to or be used to complement drug therapeutics in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
“We're not suggesting that the high-risk group use dark chocolate as their only preventative measure, but in combination with sensible choices, such as exercise," Ms Zomer said.
Researchers used a mathematical model to predict the long-term health effects and cost effectiveness of daily dark chocolate consumption in 2013 people already at high risk of heart disease. Participants had no history of heart disease or diabetes and were not on blood pressure-lowering therapy.
Findings suggested that investing $42 per person, per year on dark chocolate-related health strategies, including advertising and promotion, would be beneficial to the wider population in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Non-fatal stroke and non-fatal heart attack were assessed and the potential effects on other cardiovascular events, including heart failure, are yet to be examined.
Ms Zomer said ‘enriched’ dark chocolate varieties with high flavonoid levels may also allow consumers to obtain the health benefits with lower levels of chocolate consumption.