Researchers reveal why dark chocolate may help people with artery disease

People suffering from problems with arteries in their legs could benefit from treating themselves to a little dark chocolate on occasion.

In a small study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers learned that polyphenols that are found in dark chocolate could help to alleviate peripheral artery disease (PAD) to some degree.

PAD is the narrowing of the arteries to the legs, arms, head and stomach, though the condition most commonly affects arteries to the legs. With such narrowing comes reduced blood flow, which can lead to cramping, pain, and lethargy in the legs and/or hips when walking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately eight million people in the U.S. suffer from PAD.

In the study, co-authored by Lorenzo Loffredo, M.D., assistant professor at the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, 14 men and 6 women aged between 60 to 78 years were analyzed. The participants who ate dark chocolate were able to walk unassisted, compared to after eating milk chocolate.

The patients were tested on a treadmill after consuming 40g of dark and milk chocolate in the morning, the again two hours later on different days. The researchers found that after eating dark chocolate, the participants were able to walk 11 percent farther and 15 percent longer as compared to after consuming milk chocolate.

The researchers suggest that the polyphenols found in dark chocolate may help to lower the oxidative stress placed on peripheral arteries, as well as improve blood flow through these vessels.