A new study from Denmark gives you another excuse to indulge in chocolate: It's been linked to a lower risk of atrial fibrillation, which is when your heartbeat is irregular. The study, published in the journal BMJ Heart, adds to a wealth of research that touts the sweet confection as a heart-healthy treat since it's been linked to preventing heart disease and stroke.
The Denmark study from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at 55,000 Danish subjects between the ages of 50 and 64, their chocolate consumption, and heart health. Those who reported eating chocolate (of all kinds) once a month have atrial fibrillation rates that were 10 to 20 percent less than those who were less regular in their chocolate intake.
"Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias," says the study's lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky in a statement.
The most significant effect was found in subjects who ate one ounce of chocolate two to six times per week. There was a difference when breaking it down between genders. For women, the strongest link (21 percent decline) was seen in subjects who consumed one-ounce servings on a weekly basis. For men, the strongest association (23 percent reduced risk) was two to six one-ounce servings a week.
The findings are significant, as atrial fibrillation — 2.7 million to 6.1 million Americans suffer from it — is known to increase an individual's risk of stroke, heart failure, and cognitive impairment. But it should be noted that an association does not mean cause and effect. And the team behind the study admits the study's limitations: The subject pool was mostly ethnically homogeneous, and participants who ate chocolate were healthier and better educated than their non-chocolate-consuming counterparts.
Scientists don't fully understand how chocolate factors in, but they theorize that a compound found in chocolate called flavonoids, which boasts antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, may play a role. If this is the case, then cocoa content in chocolate is a factor — higher cocoa content is better than lower levels.