Many people love dark chocolate and believe that it can be part of a healthy diet, but is there any truth to these claims? Many studies have shown that dark chocolate can exert positive health benefits. Most of the dark chocolate on the market has 70% or higher cocoa. Dark chocolate has special plant chemicals which may be responsible for its health benefits, called flavonoids. This article will talk about the relationship between dark chocolate flavonoids and blood pressure.
Flavonoids in Dark Chocolate and Blood Pressure (BP)
Flavonoids are beneficial plant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, flowers, tea, wine and other plant based foods (1). The flavonoids in dark chocolate may help lower BP by improving the health of endothelial cells which line the blood vessels (2). Flavonoids may also help BP by maintaining normal levels of nitric oxide. (3). Impaired levels of nitric oxide (NO) have been associated with the development of hypertension (4).
Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Polyphenols- plant compounds with health benefits
A small 2005 study compared the effects of dark chocolate (with 500 mg polyphenols) to white chocolate (with no polyphenols) on blood pressure in healthy subjects (5). Those in the dark chocolate group experienced a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure compared to the white chocolate group (107.5 ± 8.6 compared with 113.9 ± 8.4 mm Hg). The authors repeated this study in people with high blood pressure and found the same results- those eating dark chocolate experienced a greater decrease in blood pressure than those eating white chocolate (6).
A 2010 meta-analysis on the relationship between dark chocolate and blood pressure concluded, “Our meta-analysis of 15 trial arms suggests that dark chocolate and flavanol-rich cocoa products are superior to placebo in reducing systolic hypertension and diastolic prehypertension” (7). Among hypertensive patients, the authors found that dark chocolate intake was associated with a 5 mmHG decrease in systolic blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years. This decrease is similar to the decrease observed from engaging in regular moderate physical activity.
- Dark chocolate has long been proposed to have various health benefits.
- Studies have found that the polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds) in dark chocolate may be responsible for the chocolate’s health benefits.
- Dark chocolate intake has been associated with a significant decrease in blood pressure.
- One study of subjects with high blood pressure found that dark chocolate intake was associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular event similar to that found with regular moderate physical activity.
- Panche, A. N., Diwan, A. D., & Chandra, S. R. (2016). Flavonoids: an overview. Journal of nutritional science, 5.
- Alberts, B., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., Walter, P., Raff, M., & Roberts, K. (2002). Molecular Biology of the Cell 4th Edition: International Student Edition.
- Fraga, C. G., Litterio, M. C., Prince, P. D., Calabró, V., Piotrkowski, B., & Galleano, M. (2010). Cocoa flavanols: effects on vascular nitric oxide and blood pressure. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 48(1), 63-67.
- Hermann, M., Flammer, A., & Lüscher, T. F. (2006). Nitric oxide in hypertension. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 8, 17-29.
- Grassi, D., Lippi, C., Necozione, S., Desideri, G., & Ferri, C. (2005). Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons–. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(3), 611-614.
- Grassi, D., Desideri, G., Necozione, S., Lippi, C., Casale, R., Properzi, G., … & Ferri, C. (2008). Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1671-1676.
- Ried, K., Sullivan, T., Fakler, P., Frank, O. R., & Stocks, N. P. (2010). Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis. BMC medicine, 8(1), 39.