Dark choc help blood pressure?

A study claims it could improve blood pressure in just one month

NHS

Does eating a few squares of dark chocolate a day improve blood pressure?

"Eating a few squares of dark chocolate every day 'improves your blood pressure in just one month'," is the overoptimistic headline in the Mail Online.

Unfortunately for chocoholics, the study involved just 30 people, so the results are not particularly robust.

And all 30 were young healthy adults, so we do not know whether there would be any benefit for older people with a confirmed diagnosis of high blood pressure.

In this small study, participants ate 20g of either high cocoa (90%) or lower cocoa (55%) dark chocolate each day for 30 days.

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Can dark chocolate help with blood pressure?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Dark chocolate is not only tasty - but it could have some health benefits.

The sweet treat could help improve your blood pressure, according to a new study.

However, the research has been scrutinised - and called "not particularly robust".

The Claim

Chocolate lovers have a "new reason to celebrate as scientists have discovered the indulgent treat is good for us", according to the Daily Mail.

They report that eating dark chocolate every day improves your blood pressure in just one month.

Research carried out by the Polytechnic Insitute of Coimbra in Portugal, led by Dr Telmo Pereira, believe that this due to dark chocolate being richer in the powerful antioxidant flavanols.

The Daily Mail explains: "Flavanols have been linked to everything from reduced insulin resistance to weight regulation and even faster wound healing."

The study involved 30 healthy adults - aged 18 to 27 - eat 20g of chocolate every day for 30 days. The participants were split into two groups: half had 55 per cent cocoa chocolate, and the rest had 90 per cent cocoa chocolate. Their heart rates, artery stiffness and pulses were measured before and after the experiment,

It found that all the participants saw significant improvement to their blood pressure - and the effects were more dramatic in the high-cocoa group. They also had healthier pulse rates and ventricular-arterial coupling.

The Counterclaim

However, NHS Behind the Headlines argues that the coverage has been "overoptimistic", and the results from the study are "not particularly robust".

There are a number of problems with it: we have no knowledge of the participants' usual diet, we don't know if it would benefit older people with a confirmed diagnosis of high blood pressure, and the study size is too small.

The study involved only 30 people, and there was not enough people in each group to ensure that "any results are not down to pure chance". The small study does not pass that threshold.

The NHS warns that dark chocolate still contains saturated fat, and eating too much can raise your risk of heart disease. They explain: "In this study, the 20g high dose portion of chocolate contained 10g of fat, including 6g of saturated fat.

"There's also the calorie impact to take into account (119 calories for the high-dose chocolate portion) when weighing up whether dark chocolate has a place in a healthy, balanced diet."

They conclude: "Overall, this study does not provide enough evidence to recommend that people eat strong dark chocolate to improve the health of their arteries."

The Facts

While a question mark remains on whether dark chocolate is able to help with blood pressure, there are natural ways to reduce it.

High blood pressure significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

The British Heart Foundation recommends regular physical activity. They suggest trying moderate-intensity activity, such as walking, every day and build up to at least 150 minutes per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

Maintaining a healthy diet also helps. For instance, your salt intake can result in a higher blood pressure. Aim to eat less than six grams of salt a day - which is about a teaspoonful. A low-fat diet with plenty of fibre, as well as fruit and vegetables, helps lower blood pressure.

Drinking less alcohol is a good idea. According to Medical News Today, alcohol is linked to 16 per cent of high blood pressure cases around the world. The recommended limits are no more than three to four units a day for men, and no more than two to three for women.

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