Weekly chocolate consumption may reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation in men and women.
While avoiding the overconsumption of sweets is generally recommended, dark chocolate has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Findings from a new study further confirms the benefit of chocolate for heart health.
Results from a study published by Heart suggest that consuming a few servings of chocolate each week may lower the risk of atrial fibrillation for both men and women. Overall, 1 serving per week was seen to benefit women, while men were observed to have the biggest benefit from consuming 2 to 6 servings per week.
More than 33 million patients around the world have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which is a heart rhythm irregularity that can increase the risk of stroke. Currently, there is no cure for the condition and there are no preventive therapies.
Included in the study were 55,502 patients aged 50 to 64 who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. Participants reported their weekly chocolate intake, but were not required to disclose which type of chocolate they consumed. One serving of chocolate was classified as 1 ounce.
Data regarding heart disease risk factors, diet, and lifestyle were gathered at baseline. Health was followed through registry data regarding hospital treatments and death.
The authors found that patients who ate more chocolate consumed more daily calories, with a higher portion of calories coming from chocolate, according to the study. These patients also were more educated compared with those who consumed less chocolate.
During the follow up period, 3346 patients were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. After taking other factors into account, patients who consumed 1 to 3 servings per month were 10% less likely to develop atrial fibrillation compared with patients who consume less than 1 serving per month.
This finding remained true at other frequencies as well. The risk of atrial fibrillation was 17% lower for 1 weekly serving, 20% lower for 2 to 6 weekly servings, and 14% lower for 1 or more daily servings, according to the study.
When the authors examined differences among the sexes, they found that women were less likely to develop the condition than men, regardless of chocolate consumption. They also discovered that the link between higher chocolate intake and lower risk of atrial fibrillation remained, even after accounting for other factors.
Women who consumed 1 serving of chocolate per week were observed to have a 21% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, while men consuming 2 to 6 servings reduced their risk by 23%, according to the study.
Since this is an observational study, the authors report that no firm conclusions can be made about chocolate and atrial fibrillation.
Additionally, there are concerns about the milk content in chocolate, which may affect the potentially beneficial nature of chocolate. Chocolate is typically consumed in high-calorie and high-sugar foods, which are not considered heart healthy.
"Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed in our sample probably contained relatively low concentrations of the potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a robust statistically significant association,” the authors wrote.