Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Who would have thought that a dark chocolate bar could lower blood pressure? Well, it can.

Now don’t just run off and scarf down any old chocolate candy bar. There are rules to follow for eating them, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at the study.

Cocoa Antioxidants Lower Blood Pressure

Like all plants, cocoa contains antioxidants widely known as polyphenols. In particular, cocoa is rich in epicatechin, a polyphenol belonging to a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. These powerful compounds can support your heart by reducing risk factors, including high blood pressure.

Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany showed that a daily intake of 25 mg of epicatechin could lower systolic blood pressure by 4.1 points and diastolic pressure by 2.0 points.1 By the way, we know that these changes probably seem trivial, but any reduction in blood pressure is a good thing.

Mull this one over in your brain: A retrospective, population-based analysis of 26 million people revealed a 200–400% higher mortality rate in hypertensive people between the ages of 20–49 when compared to a healthy population.2 Can you see our point? Even seemingly trivial reductions in blood pressure can have a major impact on health and longevity.

Additionally, the researchers claim that a reduction of systolic pressure by just 2 points can reduce the risk of death after a stroke by 10% and reduce the risk of death from ischemic heart disease by 7%. In the end, small drops in blood pressure actually produce big drops in risk.

So, here are the details of the cocoa study:

  1. The German researchers analyzed the effects of cocoa, specifically epicatechin, on blood pressure by looking at several randomized clinical studies. It was kind of like a “mega” review.
  2. They found that the potential blood pressure-lowering effects of cocoa antioxidants were linked to the dose consumed. The more you eat the greater the drop in pressure.
  3. They discovered that at least 25 mg of epicatechin is needed to produce a reduction in blood pressure.
  4. The scientists involved with the study believe that cocoa polyphenols increase the production of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and drops pressure.
The researchers concluded, “Even if the blood pressure-reducing effect by epicatechin is restricted to pre-hypertensive and hypertensive subjects, we have to be aware that these are the primary groups who may benefit from this measure for prevention of and therapy for high blood pressure.”

Healthy Dark Chocolate Candy Bars

Let’s start off with a disclaimer: All candy bars, including ones made with dark chocolate, have a lot of sugar and fat. So enjoy them, but only occasionally. Now, let’s look at the kind of chocolate bar you’ll want to eat.

Dark chocolate, also called plain chocolate or black chocolate, is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa liquor (liquefied pure chocolate). The U.S. has no official definition for dark chocolate but European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. However, you’ll want to eat dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa solids. Because the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more antioxidants, specifically epicatechin, it provides.

Some of our favorite brands with at least 70% cocoa are listed below. But always double-check the label, as manufactures can change their cocoa bean sources and percentage of cocoa solids:

  • Amano
  • Amedei
  • Cocoa Puro
  • Endangered Species Rainforest
  • Olive & Sinclair
  • NibMor
  • Santander
Please note: If you purchase candy bars from Japan or Europe, they call dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, “Pure Chocolate Material.” The only guarantee is that the cocoa solids are greater than 35%. So if you’re looking for a higher percentage, like you should, stick with our choices above.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

References:

  1. American Journal of Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.029330
  2. Robitaille C, Dai S, Waters C, et al. Diagnosed hypertension in Canada: incidence, prevalence and associated mortality. CMAJ. 2011 Nov 21.

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10 comments:

Your Personal Wellness Center said...

How about just using organic Cacao powder or nibs in your Rich Rewards coffee. Talk about an antioxidant load.

Spencer said...

Not that I needed an excuse to eat chocolate but that is music to my ears!

Paul Burgess said...

The main beneficial compound of chocolate is Cocoa flavonoid. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids than milk chocolate and pure cocoa has the most. Maybe that is the reason why dark chocolate can help lowers blood pressure.

Life Extension said...

Paul Burgess- You’re right! It’s the flavonoids found in dark chocolate that are responsible for its blood pressure supporting effects.

gluten free said...

It's all part of the checking ingredients on labels that we all need to do, a great health tip, when eating chocolate or anything else for that matter.

Anonymous said...

THE best chocolate ever is Green & Black's 85% cocoa. So delicious with the bonus of health benefits.

Anonymous said...

Not completely true article. High cocoa solids does NOT equal high levels of flavanols / epitcatechin. Not all dark chocolates are created equal. Actually what needs to be done is to MEASURE the flavanols and procyanidin content. A method to measure them has recently been developed. Finally, the mechanism of action is NOT antioxidant mechanism. However it is true that dark chocolate does contain phytochemicals that do effect blood pressure in a positive way.

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

where to buy these brands?

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Local health food stores and online. :-)

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