High levels of chocolate consumption might be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease, according to a new analysis.
The findings confirm results of existing studies that generally agree on a potentially beneficial link between chocolate consumption and heart health. However, the authors stressed that further studies are needed to test whether chocolate actually causes this reduction or if it can be explained by some other unmeasured factor.
The findings were scheduled to be presented Monday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris and appear on the website of BMJ.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge carried out a large-scale review of the existing evidence to evaluate the effects of eating chocolate on cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction and stroke.
They analyzed the results of seven studies, involving over 100,000 participants with and without existing heart disease. For each study, they compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption against the group with the lowest consumption. Differences in study design and quality were also taken into account to minimize bias.
Five studies reported a beneficial link between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiovascular events. They found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels. No significant reduction was found in relation to heart failure.
The studies did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate and included consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts.
The authors said the findings need to be interpreted with caution, in particular because commercially available chocolate is very calorific (around 500 calories for every 100 grams) and eating too much of it could lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease.
However, they concluded that given the health benefits of eating chocolate, initiatives to reduce the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products should be explored.
To read the study, visit http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4488.full.