Eating dark chocolate may significantly reduce high blood pressure, scientists have said.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition in Ireland and is associated with an increased risk of a number of conditions, including coronary artery disease, stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Around 50% of Irish adults aged over 50 have the condition.
Australian researchers combined the results of 15 studies which looked at the effects of flavanols on blood pressure. Flavanols are the compounds in chocolate which cause dilation (enlargement) of blood vessels.
"Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure. There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real life effects of eating chocolate. We've found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure," explained Dr Karen Ried of the University of Adelaide.
The researchers said that the pressure reduction seen in the combined results for people with hypertension may be clinically relevant as it is comparable to the known effects of 30 minutes of physical activity every day. This could theoretically reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years.
However the team said they were cautious about the results.
"The practicability of chocolate or cocoa drinks as long-term treatment is questionable," Dr Ried acknowledged.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, BMC Medicine.