Dark chocolate fans, rejoice. The delicious treat is a win-win: Thanks to all the health benefits, it’s a guilt-free indulgence. Based on the findings of a recent study published in Heart, regularly eating dark chocolate can help prevent atrial fibrillation (afib), one of the most common types of irregular heartbeat. Afib can be deadly, which is why it’s crucial to be aware of afib’s subtle symptoms.
Researchers in Denmark tracked 55,502 people for nearly 14 years for the study. After ruling out factors that contribute to afib—such as obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure—the researchers discovered that subjects who ate dark chocolate at least once a month had afib rates that were 10 to 20 percent lower than those who avoided the stuff. Women who ate an ounce of chocolate at least once a week had the lowest risk for afib; men needed to consume an ounce two to six times a week to be in the lowest-risk group.
While it’s unclear exactly why dark chocolate eases afib, the researchers believe that antioxidant flavonoids in cocoa may be responsible. The antioxidants can reduce inflammation and scarring in the blood stream, and that may help prevent disruption of the electrical signals in the heart crucial for maintaining regular rhythm.
One caveat is that the dark chocolate group tended to be healthier and better educated than abstainers, and that could have made them less likely to suffer afib in the first place, say critics. And fans would respond: Of course we’re healthier and better educated—we love dark chocolate!