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Study: Chocolate Reduces Blood Pressure

Here’s some good and bad news for chocoholics: Dark chocolate
seems to lower blood pressure, but it requires an amount less than two
Hershey’s Kisses to do it, a small study suggests. The new research from Germany
adds to mounting evidence linking dark chocolate with health benefits, but it’s
the first to suggest that just a tiny amount may suffice.

Volunteers for the study ate just over 6 grams of dark
chocolate daily for almost five months one square from a German chocolate bar
called Ritter Sport, equal to about 1 1/2 Hershey’s Kisses. People who ate that
amount ended up with lower blood pressure readings than those who ate white

University of Cologne
researcher Dr. Dirk Taubert, the study’s lead author, said the blood pressure
reductions with dark chocolate were small but still substantial enough to
potentially reduce cardiovascular disease risks, although study volunteers
weren’t followed long enough to measure that effect.

The research involved just 44 people aged 56 through 73, but
the results echo other small studies of cocoa-containing foods. Cocoa
contains flavanols, plant-based compounds that also are credited with giving
red wine its heart-healthy benefits.

One problem is chocolate bars containing cocoa tend to have
lots of calories, so Taubert and his colleagues tested small amounts containing
just 30 calories each.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American
Medical Association. It was funded by University
Hospital in Cologne.

The results are interesting but need to be duplicated in
larger, more ethnically diverse populations, said Dr. Laura Svetkey, director
of Duke University’s
Hypertension Center.

She stressed that the study results should not be viewed as
license to gorge on chocolate.

“I would be as happy as the next person if I got to eat
more chocolate,” she said, but cautioned that weight gain from eating
large amounts of dark chocolate would counteract any benefits on blood

Study participants were otherwise healthy and mostly
normal-weight German adults with mild high blood pressure or pre-hypertension,
which includes readings between 120 over 80 and 139 over 89.

Average blood pressure at the start was about 147 over 86.

Every day for 18 weeks, the volunteers were instructed to
eat one-square portions of a 16-square Ritter Sport bar, or a similar portion
of white chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t contain cocoa.

Systolic blood pressure, the top number, fell an average of
nearly three points and diastolic dropped almost two points in the dark
chocolate group, compared with no change in blood pressure readings in the
white chocolate group.

Tests suggested that steady exposure to dark chocolate
prompted chemical changes that helped dilate blood vessels and regulate blood
pressure, the researchers said.

Participants were told not to eat other cocoa-containing
products and to continue regular eating habits and activity levels. They also
kept food diaries so researchers could see if other foods might have influenced
the results.

But, said Taubert, “It is very unlikely that other
factors may explain the blood pressure reduction.”

Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said
the most proven non-drug methods for lowering blood pressure are losing weight
and eating less salt. Eating dark chocolate might help if combined with those
two, he said.

For most people, “the lower your blood pressure, the
better you are. So if you can get it lower from different strategies that’s
good for the long term,” Appel said,

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