Good news for chocolate lovers! Eating dark chocolate on a daily basis can reduce cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes in people with metabolic syndrome, i.e. a combination of factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

The study was published in British Medical Journal (BMJ) today.

Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the highest cause of mortality. Dark chocolate with a cocoa solid content of at least 60% is rich in flavonoids that are known to protect the heart. However, the protecting effects have so far only been assessed in short-term studies. To predict the long-term effects, Australian researchers from Melbourne used a mathematical model to predict the long-term health effects and economic effectiveness of eating dark chocolate on a daily basis. For their study, the researchers recruited 2,013 people who were high-risk candidates for heart disease.

All participants were hypertensive and met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, yet they had no previous history of heart disease or diabetes and did not take medication to lower their blood pressure. The best-case scenario, i.e. a compliance of 100% meant that eating dark chocolate on a daily basis would be able to prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people over a 10-year duration.

By reducing the compliance rate to 80%, they could potentially prevent 55 non-fatal and 10 fatal events respectively, which is still a substantial reduction and effective intervention.

According to the model, governments would be able to spend $A40 (£25; €31; $42) per person per year cost effectively on dark chocolate prevention strategies. This saving could be used for advertising, educational campaigns, or subsidizing dark chocolate in this high-risk population.

The researchers point out that their study only assessed non-fatal stroke and non-fatal heart attacks, and that further tests are required to evaluate the potential impact on other cardiovascular events like heart failure.

They also stress that these protective effects only apply to dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 60-70% cocoa, an not to milk or white chocolate. This could be because of the fact that dark chocolate has a much higher level of flavonoids.

They conclude by stating that dark chocolate’s blood pressure and cholesterol lowering properties “could represent an effective and cost effective strategy for people with metabolic syndrome (and no diabetes).”

Written By Petra Rattue