Eating a small amount of chocolate every week or so may decrease the risk of a common and serious type of irregular heart rhythm, according to a new study of people in Denmark.
People who ate chocolate one to three times per month were about 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation than those who ate the sweet treat less than once a month, researchers found.
“As part of a healthy diet, moderate intake of chocolate is a healthy snack choice,” said lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The study cannot say for certain that it was the chocolate that prevented atrial fibrillation, however.
Mostofsky and colleagues write in the journal Heart that eating cocoa and cocoa-containing foods may help heart health because they have a high volume of flavanols, which are compounds that are believed to have anti-inflammatory, blood vessel-relaxing and anti-oxidant properties.
Past studies have that found eating chocolate – especially dark chocolate, which has more flavanols – is tied to better measures of heart health and decreased risk for certain conditions like heart attacks and heart failure, they add.
There isn’t as much research on whether chocolate is also linked to a lower risk of atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the upper chamber of the heart beats irregularly.
At least 2.7 million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation, which increases their risk for blood clots and resulting strokes, heart failure and other complications, according to the American Heart Association.