Dark chocolate wears many hats - it's tasty, it's versatile, and it feels a little less naughty than eating its milky ilk. Plus, with it's above-average antioxidant content, it's also been touted by some optimists as a superfood. Now, it looks like there's another benefit for fans to add to the list: the high flavanol content is effective in keeping arterial walls supple and white blood cells from sticking where they shouldn't.
"We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health," said researcher Diederik Esser, Ph.D. "However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one."
White blood cells sticking to artery walls, creating buildup, is known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to a higher likelihood of stroke, heart attack, and increased blood pressure. Flavanol inhibits the buildup, allowing for stronger, more flexible arteries. Interestingly, however, increasing the percentage of flavanol in the chocolate didn't better the results - they existing content seemed to be a cap on the amount that would show a positive effect in the body.
The study, conducted by researchers at Wageningen University, Division of Human Nutrition in Wageningen, The Netherlands, spanned a four-week period and observed 44 overweight men who ate 70 grams of dark chocolate each day that they participated in the study - depending on the participant, between two and four weeks. Titled Dark chocolate consumption improves leukocyte adhesion factors and vascular function in overweight men and published in The FASEB Journal, researchers drew results from vascular measurements taken throughout the duration of the study. Participants ate either specially manufactured chocolate with a high presence of flavanol, or standard chocolate that lacked sufficient flavanol.
"The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results," said Dr. Gerald Weissmann, The FASEB Journal's editor-in-chief. "Until the 'dark chocolate drug' is developed, however, we'll just have to make do with what nature has given us!"