How much cocoa does it take to lessen heart attack and stroke risk?

At first, atrial fibrillation (also known as Afib) may not seem like a big deal…

Maybe you feel extra fatigued when exercising. Or you feel a slight flutter in your chest. Or maybe you don’t have any symptoms at all, and your doctor just happens to notice your Afib at a check-up.

But this common and seemingly harmless heart beat irregularity comes with serious consequences…

When you have Afib, the upper chambers of your heart (also known as atria) beat abnormally. They quiver instead of beating strongly, which means they’re not moving blood into your ventricles as effectively. As a result, you’re more likely to develop a blood clot, have a stroke or develop heart failure.

In fact, people with Afib are a whopping five times more likely to have a stroke than people with a normal heart rhythm. And since one in four people are at risk for developing Afib (usually out-of-the-blue from an unknown cause) prevention should be at the top of your mind…

Luckily, there’s a tasty and effective way to keep your heart pumping easy and flutter-free… eating chocolate.

Choose chocolate for a healthy heart

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the amazing health effects chocolate can have on your body… especially your heart.

A review published last year showed that cocoa can improve insulin resistance, balance blood sugar, lower bodily inflammation, lower elevated triglyceride levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL). Since all of these are direct indicators of your risk for heart disease, researchers believe regular cocoa consumption is a very heart-healthy practice.

And countless other reviews and studies over the years have confirmed the same thing. A 2015 study found, for example, that eating up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day lowers your risk for heart disease. Now, the latest research from Duke University shows that a little bit of chocolate per week goes a long way toward preventing the potentially deadly heart condition Afib too.

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In their study, researchers looked at data from 55,502 men and women who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. As part of that study, these men and women provided information about how much chocolate they ate per week. Their heart health was also monitored for about 13.5 years.

After analyzing this data, researchers determined that people who ate chocolate regularly were less likely to develop Afib. More specifically:

  • 1-3 servings of chocolate per month was associated with a 10 percent lower risk
  • 1 serving per week was associated with a 17 percent lower risk
  • 2-6 servings per week was associated with a 20 percent lower risk
  • 1 or more servings per day was associated with a 10 percent lower risk

So, the sweet spot for atrial fibrillation prevention seems to be between 1 and 6 servings of chocolate per week. Unfortunately for us women, men seem to make off a little better after eating more chocolate than we do.

Men reduced their risk the most (by 23 percent) when they ate 2 to 6 servings per week, while women reduced their risk the most (by 21 percent) when they ate 1 serving per week.

Chocolate-lovers beware…

Now, it’s exciting to learn a food you love can help your health in a serious way. But be careful…

Even though they didn’t specify in the study what types of chocolate people were eating, chances are, you’re not going to get chocolate’s best health benefits from biting into a Milky Way or any other brand of processed, sweetened candy.

If you truly want to enjoy chocolate and experience health benefits buy all-natural dark chocolate that’s cocoa content is 60 percent or higher. And if you like nuts, find a brand of chocolate that contains almonds, walnuts or cashews too. Not only will nuts give your heart a little added protection, they’ll lower your risk for Alzheimer’s, cancer and lung disease to boot.

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Sources:

  1. What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?” — American Heart Association. Retrieved May 27, 2017.
  2. Sweet dreams: eating chocolate prevents heart disease.” — Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved May 27, 2017.
  3. Regular chocolate consumption may be linked to lower risk of heart flutter.” — MedicalXpress. Retrieved May 27, 2017.
  4. Mostofsky, et al. “Chocolate intake and risk of clinically apparent atrial fibrillation: the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study.” — Heart, 2017.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.