Are dark chocolates good for the heart?

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The medicinal use of chocolate has a long history in North America dating back to the 16th century. From Mesoamerican Codices and European Treatises, scholars have determined that for hundreds of years the beverage called chocolate was administered to the sick and prescribed homeopathically to prevent illness.

Cocoa and particularly dark chocolate are rich in flavonoids and it lowers the blood pressure.

A Harvard study published in 2011 in Clinical Nutrition by Diousse L and group from Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shown that dark chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalence of coronary heart disease. That dark chocolate improves endothelial functions and the platelet function was shown by Hermann F and group in 2006 in the Journal Heart.

Franco and coauthors from Erasmus MC University Medical Centre Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2004 wrote in British Medical Journal that the polymeal concept is a more natural, safer, and probably tastier than the Polypill strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease by more than 75%. The evidence-based recipe included wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds.

Another study published in 2007 in the Journal Heart has shown that small dietary changes yield big blood pressure benefits. One should limit sodium, eat more veggies and add modest amounts of soy nuts and dark chocolate to improve the heart health.

In 2009, Sirtori CR and group from University of Milano, Italy wrote in Nutr Res Rev journal that dark chocolate is gaining much attention as a functional food for its multifunctional activities, useful both for the prevention of dyslipidemia as well as hypertension.

Loffredo L and group from I Clinica Medica, Viale del Policlinico Italy have shown in the Journal Heart in 2011 that the acute effects of dark chocolate in smokers are due to nitrite/nitrate (NOX2)-mediated arterial dysfunction. Cocoa enhances artery dilatation by lowering of NOX2 activation as assessed by blood levels of soluble NOX2 derived peptide.

Lifestyle choices in controlling blood pressure

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  • Try lifestyle management for up to 6 months. It can alone control blood pressure if initial BP is
    <160/100 mmHg.
  • Lifestyle interventions have effects similar to single drug therapy.
  • Combinations of two (or more) lifestyle modifications can achieve even better results.
  • One should maintain normal body weight. One can achieve a reduction of  5–20 mmHg of BP for every 10 kg weight loss.
  • One should consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products with a reduced content of saturated and total fat. It can reduce a blood pressure of 8-14 mmHg.
  • One should reduce dietary sodium intake to no more than 100 mmol per day (2.4 g sodium or 6 g sodium chloride). It can alone reduce blood pressure by 2-8 mmHg.
  • One should engage in regular aerobic physical activity such as brisk walking (at least 30 min per day, most days of the week). It can alone reduce blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg.
  • One should limit consumption of alcohol to no more than 2 drinks (1 oz or 30 mL ethanol; e.g., 24 oz beer, 10 oz wine, or 3 oz 80-proof whiskey) per day in most men and to no more than 1 drink per day in women and lighter weight persons. It can alone reduce blood pressure by 2-4 mmHg.