Chocolate the proverbial food of the gods can slightly lower blood pressure in people with mild hypertension, doctors report today in an analysis that spotlights the medical benefits of a tasty treat.
German researchers writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association say dark chocolate is so rich in the class of biochemicals called flavonols that it actually produces favorable effects on the cardiovascular system. Just 30 calories worth — about the size of a Hershey’s Kiss — not only helped lower blood pressure but raised levels of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, of Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, thinks it’s time for the dark chocolate to move from the candy store to the clinic.
“The best part of this study is that it allows us to give wholehearted recommendations to those patients with high blood pressure who might have a sweet tooth,” she said.
Going into the study, Dr. Dirk Taubert of University Hospital in Cologne, Germany, hypothesized that “small, habitual” doses of dark chocolate might prove beneficial. He gathered 44 adults between the ages of 56 and 73 with untreated pre-hypertension and mild, stage 1 hypertension, dividing them into two groups. One consumed a daily dose of dark chocolate; the other the same amount of white chocolate. The test ran 18 weeks.
For those eating dark chocolate, the average systolic blood pressure declined by 2.9 millimeters of mercury. The systolic pressure is the upper number in the blood pressure fraction. The average diastolic blood pressure dropped by 1.9 millimeters of mercury. No change occurred for those who nibbled on white chocolate.
Still, some doctors aren’t clamoring to recast dark chocolate into a medication.
“There are probably a lot of naturally occurring compounds that have beneficial effects on blood pressure, but it just so happens that this one comes packaged in dark chocolate,” said Dr. David Brown, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center. His conclusion: “It’s not ready for prime time.”
Dr. Stephen Green, associate director of the cardiac catheterization laboratories at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said patients with hypertension should stick with their medications.
“I’ve noticed that people, especially here on Long Island, don’t like the idea of having hypertension, but they’re always bringing me lists of supplements and vitamins and stuff out of the health food store that they want to take,”