Longevity Briefs: Can Dark Chocolate Protect The Heart Against Stress?

Posted on 25 January 2021

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: I, for one, have previously been compelled to eat more chocolate than I otherwise would during times of stress. Stress can cause you to overeat, and it can also kill your appetite. Likewise, the food you eat can affect your response to stress. Epicatechin is an antioxidant compound found in dark chocolate that may protect the cardiovascular system against the effects of stress.

Epicatechin: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage and Supplements

What did the researchers do: In this study, 47 young and healthy female participants were recruited. Researchers measured stress metrics such as blood pressure and heart rate, both at rest and while performing a mentally stressful task in the form of mental arithmetic. Participants then ate a single ‘dose’ of either 85% dark chocolate or milk chocolate, and the measurements were repeated 2 hours later.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Dark chocolate was associated with increased (systolic) blood pressure and double product (a metric of cardiac oxygen consumption) compared with milk chocolate. However, during stress, dark chocolate was associated with a reduced % increase in a wider variety of measurements including average arterial blood pressure, heart rate and double product. Milk chocolate, meanwhile, had no significant impact on the response to stress.

% change in mean arterial blood pressure relative to baseline before (white) and two hours after (striped) chocolate consumption.
The Effect of a Single Dose of Dark Chocolate on Cardiovascular Parameters and Their Reactivity to Mental Stress

This study suggests that dark chocolate may reduce the cardiovascular response to stress. In relation to the increase in resting blood pressure, the authors speculate that while antioxidants like epicatechin in dark chocolate may have long-term protective effects on the cardiovascular system, other components like theobromine and caffeine counteract some of their effects in the short term.

It’s worth pointing out that participants of this study ate quite a lot of chocolate – 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. For a healthy woman of average height, that would be roughly 60 grams.

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The Effect of a Single Dose of Dark Chocolate on Cardiovascular Parameters and Their Reactivity to Mental Stress: https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2019.1662341

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