Dark chocolate satisfies your sweet tooth and invigorates your health. Packed with antioxidant power, dark chocolate has been linked to enhanced cardiovascular function. A 2014 study published in The FASEB Journal connected dark chocolate consumption to a reduced risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that dark chocolate may improve mobility in patients with peripheral artery disease.
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease
Your peripheral arteries carry blood to your head, organs, and limbs. More than eight million Americans suffer from peripheral artery disease (PAD), which manifests as a narrowing of the arteries and impaired blood flow to the stomach, arms, head, and legs. Symptoms include pain, cramping, and fatigue in the leg and hip muscles while walking, which greatly reduces the amount of time someone with PAD can spend mobile. There may be relief yet…and in the form of a very sweet treat!
Dark Chocolate Increases Walking Distance
Scientists from Sapienza University of Rome in Italy studied the effect of dark chocolate on mobility in 14 men and 6 women with PAD. Researchers took blood samples and asked participants to perform walking tests over the course of two days. On the first day, researchers clocked the time and distance that the individuals were able to walk on a treadmill. After two hours, they gave them 40 grams of dark chocolate and asked them to walk as far as possible once again. On the second day researchers gave participants 40 grams of milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate after the first walking test.
Results showed that after eating the dark chocolate participants walked an average of 17 seconds longer and 39 feet father the second time around. Milk chocolate had no effect on time or distance.
The dark chocolate was also associated with raised nitric oxide levels in the blood. (Nitric oxide is linked to improved blood flow.) Dark chocolate also seemed to decrease biochemical markers of oxidative stress, which, researchers theorize, may be responsible for dilating the peripheral arteries and improving mobility. Researchers believe that the dark chocolate (with a cacoa content of 85%) was effective due to its rich polyphenol content. Milk chocolate on the other hand, with only a 35% cacoa content, doesn’t have quite the antioxidant potency.
Senior study author Dr. Francesco Violi explains the potential benefit of dark chocolate: “polyphenol-rich nutrients could represent a new therapeutic strategy to counteract cardiovascular complications.”
The American Heart Association reminds us to be cautious about the results, reporting, “Other investigations have shown that polyphenols including those in dark chocolate may improve blood vessel function. But this study is extremely preliminary and I think everyone needs to be cautious when interpreting the findings.”
The study was also limited in that there was no placebo group and participants were aware of the type of chocolate they were eating. While more studies need to be conducted before dark chocolate can be considered a true cardiovascular tonic, a square of dark chocolate a day is proving to be a healthy indulgence!