Yummy! Weekly Chocolate Snack Protects Against Atrial Fibrillation

If your significant other hands you a box of chocolates, your heart might skip a beat; but that’s pretty much the only time you want to feel your heart flutter. Even sweeter, eating what’s in that box may protect you from a dangerous form of heart palpitations called atrial fibrillation, a study shows.

Published in May of 2017 in the journal Heartthe study found that adults who ate chocolate 1-3 times per month were 10-20% less likely to suffer from atrial fibrillation, or AFib, than those who snacked on chocolate once a month or less. [1]

Discovering the Heart-Healthy Properties of Chocolate

Researchers looked at long-term data regarding the diets of more than 55,500 men and women aged 50-64 years old in Denmark. The participants submitted information relating to their eating habits upon entering the study, between 1993 and 1997.

The researchers then used data from Denmark’s national health registry to determine which participants had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation since the start of the study. The data revealed that 3,350 people had been diagnosed with AFib over an average of 13.5 years.

They found that:

  • People who ate approximately 1 oz. of chocolate per week had a 17% lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation by the end of the study compared to those who ate less than an ounce of chocolate a month.
  • Participants who consumed 2-6 oz. of chocolate a week were 20% less likely to develop AFib by the end of the study.
  • Women who ate just one serving of chocolate a week were found to be the least likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. The biggest risk reduction for men was associated with eating 2-6 servings of chocolate per week. [1]

Many of the health benefits associated with chocolate are found in dark chocolate, but most people in Denmark consume milk chocolate. The researchers said they weren’t sure they’d find such a large reduction in AFib risk among the population. [2]

Elizabeth Mostofsky, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the leaders of the study, said:

“We were pleasantly surprised that — despite the fact that most of the chocolate may have [had] relatively low cocoa concentrations — we were still able to see robust findings.” [2]

However, the amount of cocoa in chocolate varies significantly between the U.S. and Denmark. In the United States, milk chocolate must contain 10% cocoa solids – the suspected beneficial ingredient, compared to Denmark, where the sweet treat is required to contain 30%. [3]

The study’s authors note in an editorial published alongside the research that chocolate lovers had fewer cases of hypertension and diabetes, and had overall lower blood pressure – all factors that could help explain why those same individuals were less likely to develop atrial fibrillation. [2]

Read: 10+ Healthful Reasons to Consume Chocolate

Atrial fibrillation is believed to be caused by the release of certain molecules that damage heart tissue. Chocolate contains flavanols that can ward off the type of inflammation that can lead to tissue damage. Furthermore, flavanols may counteract the clots that could form when an irregular heartbeat allows blood to pool in the heart. [3]

Past studies have shown that eating chocolate can reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack, as well as lower blood pressure and even prevent obesity.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat, according to the American Heart Association. The condition can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.

Read: Know the Causes and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

A healthy heart normally contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. However, in people with AFib, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of maintaining a regular beat to effectively move blood into the ventricles. [4]

Many people with atrial fibrillation are unaware that they have it; yet it affects more than 33 million people worldwide, and an estimated 25% of adults will develop the heart condition sometime in their lifetime, the accompanying editorial states.

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] NPR

[3] Los Angeles Times

[4] American Heart Association


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Suppress Coughs by Coating the Throat in…Chocolate?

If you’re dealing with a nasty cough, forget about codeine and even honey and lemon (ok, maybe not honey). One of the easiest and undeniably tastiest way to quiet that hack is by eating chocolate, according to a Hull University professor.

Professor Alyn Morice, head of cardiovascular and respiratory studies at Hull, said there’s a lot of truth to a new study that tested the efficacy of a chocolate-based cough medicine. The study will be published later this year.

Morice was not involved in the study, but he is “an international authority on cough and the mechanism of cough.” He is also a founding member of the International Society for the Study of Cough.

The study, ROCOCO, involved 163 patients who were randomly given either linctus (a cough medicine in syrup form) or a chocolate-based cough syrup called Unicough.

Participants’ cold and cough symptoms improved dramatically after just two days of using Unicough. The study also found that Unicough worked better than conventional cough medications. Twice as many patients were able to stop treatment early because their cough had improved so much. [1]

The power of the cocoa-based concoction seems to lie in the demulcent properties of cocoa. The texture of chocolate makes it more viscous than traditional cough medicines, which allows it to coat the throat and soothe the urge to cough.

While the combination of honey and lemon does basically the same thing, Morice said chocolate likely has a “pharmacological activity, some sort of inhibitory effect on the nerve endings themselves.”

Morice wrote in the Daily Mail:

“We have just seen the results of the largest real-world study of an over-the-counter cough remedy ever undertaken in Europe. This proves that a new medicine which contains cocoa is better than standard linctus. The head-to-head comparison found that patients taking the chocolate-based medicine had a significant improvement in symptoms within two days.” [2]

Morice also said:

“I know that might sound like something out of Mary Poppins, but as an independent clinician who has spent years researching the mechanism of cough, I can assure you the evidence is actually as solid a bar of Fruit and Nut.”

Previous studies have shown that chocolate is effective at treating coughs. One study conducted by researchers at Imperial College in London showed that theobromine, an alkaloid in cocoa, suppresses cough better than codeine.

If the idea of any cough medicine turns you off, Morice said that slowly sucking on a piece of chocolate may provide some relief, although the syrup is more effective because of “other cough-fighting compounds.”

And sipping hot cocoa won’t do much to help a cough because you swallow it too quickly and it doesn’t have a chance to adhere to the interior of your throat and protect the nerve endings. [3]

Sources:

[1] Daily Mail

[2] HNGN

[3] Vice


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