Seniors May Be Able To Take Longer Walks After Eating Chocolate
July 3, 2014

Seniors May Be Able To Take Longer Walks After Eating Chocolate

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As if you needed another reason to eat chocolate – a new study has found that the dessert staple can help older individuals with circulatory problems in their legs take longer walks than normal.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the pilot study found that people over 60 with peripheral artery disease (PAD) could walk longer and farther two hours after eating dark chocolate. The study team said this positive effect could be due to compounds found in cocoa called polyphenols – which may lower oxidative stress and help with circulation in peripheral arteries.

“Polyphenol-rich nutrients could represent a new therapeutic strategy to counteract cardiovascular complications,” said study author Dr. Francesco Violi, a professor of internal medicine at the Sapienza University of Rome.

In the study, participants with PAD walked on a treadmill in the morning and again two hours after consuming 1.4 ounces of dark or milk chocolate, the equivalent of an average American chocolate bar. The dark chocolate had a cocoa composition of greater than 85 percent, making it high in polyphenols. The milk chocolate had a cocoa content below 30 percent and fewer polyphenols.

On days they consumed dark chocolate, patients could stroll an average of 11 percent farther and 15 percent longer – about 39 feet and about 17 seconds. Participants did not see the same effect after eating milk chocolate.

Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, also a study author and professor at the Sapienza University, said the gains offered by dark chocolate polyphenols are “of potential relevance for the quality of life of these patients.”

The study team also found amounts of nitric oxide, which has been linked to improved circulation, were greater when volunteers ate dark chocolate. Other biomarkers for oxidative stress were also lower, the researchers said. Using these observations and other laboratory tests, the authors show that the greater nitric oxide levels may be dilating peripheral arteries and enhancing walking independence.

The study noted that this was a preliminary trial and further studies involving long-term consumption would be the next logical step.

“Other investigations have shown that polyphenols including those in dark chocolate may improve blood vessel function,” said American Heart Association spokesperson Dr. Mark Creager. “But this study is extremely preliminary and I think everyone needs to be cautious when interpreting the findings.”

“We know from other studies of antioxidants — vitamin C and vitamin E for example — that these interventions have not gone on to show improvement in cardiovascular health,” Creager added.

Dr. Thom Rooke, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said while the effect of dark chocolate seen in the study may appear small to the average person – the study is scientifically significant.

“This is interesting and almost certainly has some scientific validity to it,” he told Reuters' Andrew M. Seaman. “I’m not at all surprised that things in dark chocolate change measurable things in our blood that are capable of making our blood vessels expand or contract. I just don’t think this is going to be a major answer.”


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