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Can dark chocolate help control blood pressure?

"Chocolate … could reduce blood pressure," BBC News reports.

The report is based on a well conducted review that has pooled the results of trials investigating the effects of chemicals called flavanols. Flavanols are found in cocoa products, such as cocoa powder, dark chocolate and, to a lesser extent, milk chocolate. They are thought to widen blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure.

While the researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure, the average reduction was relatively modest – a drop of 2-3mmHg.

It is not possible to say whether this small difference could have a positive effect on health or reduce risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack. As the researchers point out, this small drop may be useful if other methods, such as regular exercise, are also used to reduce blood pressure.

It is also worth noting that the trials only lasted a few weeks, so it is not possible to tell what the longer term effects would be – both in terms of pros and cons. The trials also varied widely in the dose of flavanol that was given, so it is difficult to determine what the ideal dose would be.

Chocolate in moderation can be part of a healthy balanced diet, but it is high in fat and calories. If eaten in excess any possible beneficial effects are likely to be outweighed by the risk of obesity, which itself increases the chance of high blood pressure and heart disease.

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