A study conducted by researchers at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center identified a compound that could decrease the risk of dangerous irregular heart rhythms or atrial fibrillation (AF, A-Fib), which can lead to dementia, heart failure, stroke and even early death.
In a long-term study, over 55,000 Danish women and men were followed over a 16-year period. The participants who utilized the compound were nearly 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with arrhythmia. The researchers noted, the higher the dose of the compound, the lower the risks became.
The compound, chocolate!
This is not the first study to investigate a potential link between chocolate and atrial fibrillation. In previous research involving nearly 19,000 physicians in the United States, as part of the Physicians’ Health Study, a connection could not be identified. Another team of researchers, who participated in the Women’s Health Study, was also unable to find a connection.
The most recent study, led by Elizabeth Mostofsky, an epidemiologist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, may have discovered the long sought out connection between chocolate and atrial fibrillation, which is thought be caused by the release of molecules that eventually damage the heart tissue. That damage alters the way electrical signals travel through the connecting pathway between the lower and upper chambers of the heart, leading to an erratic heartbeat.
The ingredients found in chocolate are capable of counteracting some of these problems. For example, the flavanols in chocolate can staff off the inflammation responsible for tissue damage. Flavanols could possibly counteract the blood clots linked to irregular heartbeat that allows blood to pool up in the heart.
In the new study, the research team analyzed data from the published Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. The 55,502 volunteers were between the ages of 50 and 65. They completed questionnaires in the 1990s on different types of foods they consumed and the frequency of consumption for each food.
The research identified 3,346 cases of atrial fibrillation that had been clinically confirmed, by December 2009. In those cases, a similar pattern was also discovered.
The participates who self-reported consuming chocolate one to three times a month were 10 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation, compared to the participants who self-reported only consuming chocolate less than once a month. Those that self-reported consuming chocolate once a week, were 17 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation. The group that only consumed chocolate less than one month had a 17 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than the group that consumed it daily. The group that fared best was those that self-reported consuming it two to six times a week.
Men in general are at a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, but the benefits of consuming chocolate was identified in both genders. However, the findings revealed that among men, the risk was lowest for the participants, who self-reported consuming chocolate two to six times per week. Among women, the risk was lowest for the participants, who self-reported consuming it once a week.
The researchers controlled for a variety of factors, including body mass index, cholesterol and blood pressure. They reported that all the results were statistically remarkable.
The study was published in the journal Heart in May 2017.