Succumbed to that bar of chocolate? New research suggests that you shouldn’t feel too guilty. Eaten in moderation, chocolate could reduce your risk of irregular heartbeat by a fifth.

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Researchers suggest that moderate chocolate intake may lower the risk of irregular heartbeat.

From an analysis of more than 55,000 adults from Denmark, researchers found that eating between 2 and 6 ounces of chocolate every week was associated with a 20 percent reduced risk of atrial fibrillation (A-fib).

Lead study author Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky, of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Heart.

More than 2.7 million people in the United States are living with A-fib.

A-fib is characterized by the rapid, irregular beating of the upper heart chambers, or the atria. As a result, the flow of blood into the ventricles is compromised.

According to the American Heart Association, patients with A-fib are five times more likely to have a stroke and are at double the risk of heart-related death.

Adhering to a healthful diet is considered one of the key prevention strategies for A-fib. Could chocolate form a part of that diet? The new study suggests so.

To reach their findings, Dr. Mostofsky and colleagues analyzed the data of 55,502 adults who were part of the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study.

Subjects were recruited to the study between 1993 and 1997, at which point their body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, and blood pressure were measured.

Participants were also required to complete dietary, health, and lifestyle questionnaires, which the researchers used to gather data on overall health and chocolate intake.

Using information from the Danish National Patient Register, the researchers identified 3,346 cases of A-fib among the participants during the 13.5 years of follow-up.

Compared with subjects who consumed just 1 ounce of chocolate less than once each month, those who consumed 1 to 3 ounces of chocolate per month had a 10 percent reduced risk of A-fib.

Participants who ate 1 ounce of chocolate per week were found to have a 17 percent lower risk of A-fib, while those who consumed 2 to 6 ounces each week were 20 percent less likely to develop A-fib.

When it came to higher chocolate intake, the benefits began to fade; subjects who ate at least 1 ounce of chocolate daily were found to have a 16 percent lower risk of A-fib.

According to Dr. Mostofsky, these findings suggest that consuming just small to moderate amounts of chocolate – especially dark chocolate, which is higher in antioxidants – can benefit the heart.

“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended, however, because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems,” she cautions. “But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”

This is not the first study to link moderate chocolate intake to better heart health. Research reported by Medical News Today last year, for example, found that eating a small amount of chocolate every day may lower the risk of heart disease.

According to Dr. Mostofsky and team, their study provides further evidence of the heart health benefits of moderate chocolate intake.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that, compared with other snacks or treats, eating small amounts of dark chocolate on a regular basis as part of an overall balanced, heart-healthy diet is a good option that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Study co-author Dr. Murray Mittleman, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

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