Wednesday bubble: more cocoa loco – chocolate consumption and your heart

Posted by on Aug 31, 2011 in heart disease | 2 comments

Back in June, I provided a thorough lowdown on the mysterious wonder known as chocolate and how it may or may not benefit your heart. Because I imagine that many of you have seen the latest headlines extolling the health power of chocolate, I thought it was important to clarify some of these latest findings, especially because women have a significant increase in heart disease as they enter and go through menopause.

So is it? Or isn’t it? That is, good for the heart?

A group of researchers have published an extensive review of studies examining chocolate consumption and risk of certain heart-related metabolic disorders (i.e. diabetes, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack and stroke). Of the seven included in the final writeup, five showed that the highest intake of chocolate was associated with roughly a third decrease in risk for any type of heart related metabolic disorder listed above, about 37% reduction for any type of heart disease, slightly over a third reduction in the risk for diabetes and about 29% reduced risk for stroke. These results remained even after the researchers looked at factors that might skew the results one way or another, such as age, level of physical activity, BMI, smoking, diet and drug use. However, all of the studies reported chocolate consumption differently, e.g. how often people ate chocolate, the type of chocolate (versus cocoa) consumed (chocolate bars, drinks or snacks) and the actually amount eaten daily or weekly. Most also relied on patient recall on how much chocolate they ate versus scientific records of chocolate eating patterns.

What you really need to know is that despite the sensationalist headlines about chocolate and its heart healthy benefits, these studies only showed an association and not a true cause (eating chocolate) and effect (less heart disease), which is critical.

The researchers say that excessive consumption of chocolate may actually have another effect: wight gain and increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, blood fat disorders and the like. And, as one of the researchers points out to my friend and colleague Nancy Shute, a reporter and blogger for NPR, all the study really showed was that people who reported that they ate a lot of chocolate were about a third less likely to develop diabetes, stroke or have a heart attack.

So, what’s next on the chocolate horizon? Researchers need cause and effect studies that corroborate the association that they are seeing. That means a randomized, scientific trial that compares amounts, types and conditions among healthy or unhealthy individuals. In the interim, it’s probably not the best idea to start eating mega amounts of chocolate to save your heart.

However, as grandma always told me “everything in moderation.” A little bit of chocolate can go a long, long way! And certainly can’t hurt.


  1. 8-31-2011

    Love that you point out the difference between correlation and causation. The two are frequently confused. Do you know if they ever looked at the types of chocolate being consumed? I heard once that semi-dark was most often found to be the choice among people who did well in the study, and that they tended to be healthier overall.

    After hearing that I thought that perhaps people who prefer milk chocolate have a sweet tooth, eat more sugar, and that it’s the excess of sugar that causes it.

    Because I’m a lot chubbier than I normally am right now and in the past few years but since I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’m actually pretty healthy. Normal blood pressure despite being born with an irregular heart beat, Normal blood sugar despite my family history, etc. And I think a lot of that is that I am not big on sweets.

    • 8-31-2011

      Tinu, part of the problem in this review was that the studies examined all types of chocolate. In the past, I’ve written about the health benefits of dark chocolate. So until we know how much is “a lot” and have more information, it’s safe to say but it may help but it’s not definitive. Thanks for commenting; appreciate it!

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