Eating a small amount of chocolate may decrease your risk of a serious type of irregular heartbeat, according to a new study.
People who ate the sweet treat several times a week were less likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) – a common condition linked to increased risk of stroke.
Those who consumed two to six servings per week had a 20 per cent reduced chance compared to those who ate it less than once a month.
So far, there has only limited research on the association between consuming chocolate and abnormal heart rhythm, which affects 33·5 million people worldwide.
It is the flavanols in cocoa and cocoa-containing foods which are thought to promote healthy blood vessel function.
“We observed a significant association between eating chocolate and a lower risk of atrial fibrillation – suggesting that even small amounts of cocoa consumption can have a positive health impact,” said lead study author Dr Elizabeth Mostofsky from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Atrial fibrillation – which causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate – becomes more common as you get older and affects more men than women.
It can cause problems including dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness. You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations or sometimes it doesn’t cause any symptoms, says NHS Choices.
It is also linked with higher risk of heart failure, cognitive decline, dementia, and death, say the researchers.
Scientists looked at data collected for a long-term study of 55,502 people in Denmark – there were 3,346 cases of atrial fibrillation over an average of 13.5 years.
The men and women were between 50 and 64 years old when the research began.
Those who ate one serving of 28.35 grams of chocolate per week were 17 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation by the end of the study than people who eat chocolate less than once a month.
Compared with those who ate a one-ounce serving of chocolate less than once per month, those who ate one to three servings per month had a 10 per cent lower rate of AF;
And participants who consumed one serving per week had a 17 per cent lower rate.
Those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20 per cent lower rate.
The benefit leveled off slightly with greater amounts of chocolate consumption, with those eating one or more servings per day having a 16 per cent lower chance.
The results were similar for men and women, say researchers.
Moderation is key
Flavanols are thought to have anti-inflammatory, blood vessel-relaxing and anti-oxidant properties.
Unsurprisingly, the researchers recommend eating chocolate in moderation.
“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to and other metabolic problems,” said Dr Mostofsky.
The results were published in the journal Heart.