Can dark chocolate lower blood pressure?

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Here's one of the best ways to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping your blood pressure in check: Take a nibble of dark chocolate.

In a German study of middle-aged and older people with mildly elevated blood pressure, those who ate a little of the dark stuff daily saw their readings drop several points after just 18 weeks of nibbling.

The best news of all is that the folks in the study didn't have to eat much dark chocolate -- just one small, 30-calorie square each day. After 18 weeks, the dark chocolate eaters experienced a nearly three-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and about a two-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Although the drop sounds small, when it comes to blood pressure, any little improvement can mean big things for your health. And in the study, the researchers estimated that the small drop in blood pressure in the prehypertensive study participants translated into about a 21% lower risk for really problematic blood pressure -- the kind that's so high it requires prescription medication.

Healthy compounds in dark chocolate -- called flavonols -- are undoubtedly the root cause of the blood pressure benefits in the recent study. Flavonols increase blood levels of nitric oxide, a chemical responsible for relaxing and opening blood vessels. And because chocolate tends to be high calorie, it's great news that such a small serving of dark chocolate has enough flavonols to help keep blood pressure healthy. Of course, chocolate alone won't keep blood pressure healthy.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are many studies showing that the flavonoids in cocoa can lower blood pressure. The chocolate needs to be made from non alkali processed cocoa. Dutching or using alkali destroys some of the flavonoids that help lower blood pressure. The darker the chocolate the more antioxidant compounds. Look for higher percentages of cacao. Cacao is the substance from which chocolate is made.
Pierre Dukan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Cocoa has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times those found in green tea.

Cocoa contains nutrients such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and the vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E. Cocoa is the highest natural source of magnesium. A diet high in magnesium protects against the symptoms of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and joint problems.

Recent research shows that the flavonoids in cocoa actually improve the function of blood vessels. A Mayo Clinic report suggests that moderate amounts of cocoa may be used to reduce the risk of blood clots and platelet formation in the arteries that can lead to stroke - similar to low-dose aspirin.

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Pairing a square of dark chocolate with berries, orange sections, or your favorite fruit is like sending your arteries to a day spa. Eating a half ounce of dark chocolate regularly can drop your blood pressure numbers by 5 points -- enough to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke by 20%. Credit the flavonols packed into dark chocolate. They boost production of artery-relaxing nitric oxide.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.