Science

Eating chocolate could lower the risk of irregular heartbeat, study shows

Researchers found higher levels of chocolate intake to be associated with a lower rate of atrial fibrillation.

People who regularly eat chocolate may have a lower risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, a new study has found.

A team of international experts set out to asses the link between chocolate and atrial fibrillation – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate – and found that consuming the sweet treat appeared to lower the risk of the condition.

Following on from previous studies which have linked chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, to good heart health, the researchers examined data on 55,500 people aged 50 to 64 who were taking part in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study.

Participants provided information on their usual weekly chocolate consumption.

Woman eating chocolate.
(vadimguzhva/Getty Images)

During a 13-year follow-up period, 3,346 cases of atrial fibrillation or flutter were identified.

The researchers concluded that higher levels of chocolate intake were associated with a lower rate of clinically apparent atrial fibrillation among men and women.

They found the rate of newly-diagnosed atrial fibrillation was 10% lower for those who ate between one and three 30g servings of chocolate a month than it was for those who consumed less than one serving a month.

The associations were strongest for one serving per week for women and between two and six servings a week for men.

Chocolate.
(YelenaYemchuk/Getty Images)

But the study authors, from the Duke Centre for Atrial Fibrillation in North Carolina, US, cautioned that more often than not, chocolate is eaten in high calorie products containing fat and sugar, which are generally not considered good for heart health.

They wrote that chocolate eaters in the study were healthier and more highly educated – factors associated with better general health — which might have influenced the findings.

They also highlighted that European chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa compared to countries such as the US.

Chocolate.
(Jennie Fairhurst/PA)

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Although this is a large study, it is only observational and so other factors could also be responsible for the effects seen.

“The type of chocolate eaten wasn’t recorded either, therefore we can’t directly translate these findings into recommendations.”

Atrial fibrillation affects around one million people in the UK. Patients with the condition have higher rates of heart failure, hospitalisation, stroke and cognitive impairment.

The study is published in the journal Heart.

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