On the heels of a study that shows chocolate may boost brain health, a report conducted by Australia’s National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Melbourne and the University of Adelaide published in The Cochrane Library suggests chocolate may help keep blood pressure low too.

The report analyzed 20 different studies that examined the affects of chocolate on blood pressure and found a slight reduction in blood pressure was common among the 856 healthy participants.

Researchers note that the antioxidant compound flavanol found in cocoa is known to relax blood vessels – which contributes to lowering blood pressure.

The various studies researchers looked at all gave differing results so the aim was to combine the results to see if there was any substantial overall effect.

While the findings did show a slight reduction in blood pressure, it’s important to note that each study had participants consuming different amounts of cocoa from as little as 3 grams (30 flavanols) to as much as 105 grams (1080 flavanols) a day – far more than the average person would be recommended to consume on a daily basis.

Because the length of each study varied from as little as two weeks to as long as 18 weeks, the report doesn’t give any indication of the long term effects of regular chocolate consumption on overall blood pressure.

Victoria Taylor of the British Health Foundation commented on this concern to the BBC: “It’s difficult to tell exactly what sort of quantities of flavanol-rich cocoa would be needed to observe a beneficial effect and the best way for people to obtain it. With most of the studies carried out over a short period of time it’s also not possible to know for sure whether the benefits could be sustained in the long term.

“The 100g of chocolate that had to be consumed daily in a number of the studies would also come with 500 calories – that’s a quarter of a woman’s recommended daily intake. Beans, apricots, blackberries and apples also contain flavanols and, while containing lower amounts than in cocoa, they won’t come with the unhealthy extras found in chocolate.”

While blood pressure is considered in the healthy range when it is under 120mmHg (millimeters of mercury), the report found an average of 2-3mmHg reduction overall.

“Although we don’t yet have evidence for any sustained decrease in blood pressure, the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” lead researcher Karin Ried told the BBC.

This is not the first time chocolate has been found to be beneficial in this way. A previous study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also pointed to the positive effect chocolate has on blood pressure.

With high blood pressure contributing to 47 per cent of heart disease issues and 54 per cent of strokes, keeping it in the healthy range is vital.

While it’s by no means a valid reason to overindulge in chocolate, it’s good to know that a square or two of dark chocolate each day may actually be good for your health.

Sources: Zoomer Magazine, The Cochrane Library, The Globe and Mail, BBC, Journal of the American Medical Association 

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Andris Tkacenko

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by:
Lisa Lagace