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Feb 14, 2012

Could Chocolate Improve Cardiac Function in Heart Failure Patients?

Flavanols in chocolate promote heart health.

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. As a result of significantly reduced blood flow, the body is deprived of oxygen, and patients with heart failure can experience debilitating symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath. And while there are a variety of treatments that can help minimize symptoms and slow the progression of heart failure, there is no reversing heart failure once it has developed.

Fortunately, doctors continue to research novel treatments that can help improve outcomes and quality of life for patients with heart failure—some of which might be surprising to patients. In a recent study published by the European Heart Journal, researchers examined the impact of chocolate consumption—particularly chocolates rich in the phytochemical flavanol—on the vascular function in patients with congestive heart failure. Why? Flavanols have been shown to boost the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which promote better function of the endothelium, or lining, of blood vessels and improve blood flow.

Although this study was small, including only 20 patients with heart failure, findings are promising. Researchers saw improved vascular function in patients consuming flavanol-rich chocolate daily, even after just four weeks, in comparison with those consuming no chocolate. And although these findings are specific to heart failure patients, they add to a growing body of evidence that regular consumption of chocolate, rich in flavanols and healthy fats, may actually promote cardiovascular health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What types of chocolate are high in flavanol?

  • In general, chocolates high in flavanol and other heart-healthy nutrients are ones that are the least processed, containing the greatest levels of cocoa powder. Although dark chocolate often contains the most nutrients, some types of milk chocolate can also contain high levels of cocoa and flavanols.
  • Are flavanols found in any foods other than chocolate?

  • Yes, aside from cocoa, flavanols can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, blueberries, black beans and tomatoes.

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