Dark chocolate improves blood flow and reduces the hardening of peripheral arteries, according to researchers from the Sapienza University of Rome. A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that polyphenols, an antioxidant plant compound found in high amounts in dark chocolate, may help fight arterial and other diseases and promote overall health.
The study involved 20 patients between the ages of 60 and 78 who were suffering from peripheral artery disease. Researchers had each patient walk on a treadmill prior to giving half the group dark chocolate with 85 percent or higher cocoa content, and the other half milk chocolate, which contained only 30 percent or less cocoa content.
Two hours after digesting the chocolate, the patients walked on the treadmill again as their progress was measured by researchers. Those who had been given the dark chocolate walked 11 percent farther than those who had eaten the milk chocolate. They also walked 15 percent longer than they had before being given the chocolate, leading researchers to speculate that nutrients in the dark chocolate are responsible for better blood flow to the legs.
Other studies have suggested similar blood-flow benefits from eating dark chocolate, with or without high flavanol content, as well as benefits in lowering stroke risk and reducing age-related memory loss.
Though chocolate is high in fat and sugar content and should always be eaten in moderation, those seeking its potential health benefits should choose dark chocolate with high cocoa content and flavanols.