Consuming lots of chocolate appears to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by one third, researchers from the University of Cambridge, England reported in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) and the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris, France.

Dr Oscar Franco and team explain that their study confirms findings revealed in previous research that the consumption of chocolate is associated with improved heart health. However, they emphasize that they have not been able to rule out other unmeasured confounding factors, and suggest that additional studies are needed.

According to WHO (World Health Organization), almost 23.6 million people worldwide are expected to die from heart disease by the year 2030. Several factors, including diet, exercise, body weight control and lifestyle changes could help reduce the risk of heart disease, the authors wrote.

Chocolate has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which have a positive impact on human health, including regulating insulin sensitivity and controlling blood pressure, several recent studies have revealed.

Nevertheless, nobody was sure how eating chocolate helps human health. So, Dr. Franco and team set out to review a number of scientific studies to determine what the impact of eating chocolate might be on cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack.

They assessed the data in seven studies which included 114,009 individuals – some of them had existing heart problems while others did not. One study was cross-sectional, six were cohort studies, none of them were randomized.

They compared the highest chocolate consumers with the lowest in each study. In order to minimize bias, they took into account variations in study design and quality.

The researchers found that:

  • Five studies showed evidence that eating a lot of chocolate reduced the risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Those who ate the most chocolate had a 37% lower risk of having a cardiovascular event compared to those who ate the least.
  • The highest chocolate consumers had a 29% lower incidence of stroke compared to the lowest chocolate consumers.
  • Heart failure incidence did not appear to be impacted by variations in chocolate consumption.

None of the studies focused on either milk or dark chocolate, and included chocolate desserts, biscuits chocolate bars and drinks.

Bearing in mind that most of the chocolate we buy in shops and supermarkets are high in calories, the researchers say that people must be careful when interpreting these findings. Commercially available chocolate has approximately 500 calories per 100 grams. High chocolate consumption of commercially available chocolate may lead to weight gain, which in turn raises the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes type 2.

Attempts should be made to reduce the current sugar and fat content of chocolate, given that it appears to have benefits for heart health, the authors wrote.

They concluded in an Abstract in the journal:

“Based on observational evidence, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. Further experimental studies are required to confirm a potentially beneficial effect of chocolate consumption.”

Written by Christian Nordqvis