Sure, a bar of dark chocolate has been known to cheer up a friend, family member or loved one in a great deal of pain. It’s good for the heart and your outlook, thanks to its mood-boosting properties.
According to a new study, the tasty treat also may give more mobility to people having trouble standing or walking because of poor leg circulation.
Don’t you just love delicious food remedies?
The medicinal properties of dark chocolate are in the spotlight again thanks to Italian research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It revealed that older people suffering from painful peripheral artery disease (PAD), which narrows the arteries carrying blood to the extremities, were able to walk longer and farther just a couple of hours after eating a dark chocolate bar.
Circulation Boost from Dark Chocolate
The Italian study participants included 14 men and six women between the ages of 60 to 78—who suffered from PAD. The group was asked to walk on treadmills for as long as possible, then assigned to eat 40 grams of either dark or milk chocolate, and invited to repeat their treadmill activity two hours later. Those with poor leg circulation who ate the dark chocolate demonstrated far more mobility. In fact, they were able to walk an average 11% farther and 15% longer than they were able to earlier in the day.
Participants who ate the milk chocolate, however, showed no real improvement in the time or distance that they could walk.
Additionally, researchers learned that levels of nitric oxide were much higher among participants who consumed dark chocolate than those who ate the milk chocolate. Scientists believe that the higher nitric oxide levels may be tied to polyphenols—or antioxidant compounds. Generally, polyphenols are far more abundant in dark chocolate and can lead to improved blood circulation and mobility. That’s because polyphenols affect the body’s chemicals that widen arteries.
The study’s lead author Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, of Sapienza University, told the Chicago Tribune in July that “nutrients are key components of health” and “following an appropriate diet is crucial for reducing the burden of vascular disease.”
Today, roughly one in five Westerners aged 70 years or older suffers from PAD, according to the researchers. The condition can leave your legs or feet in pain, and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Get Your Dark Fix—But Just a Square or Two
Of course, people with poor leg circulation shouldn’t binge on dark chocolate. It’s high in calories and saturated fat, so keep your daily fix to a small square or two of a quality brand with a high percentage of cocoa, like 80% and above.
The results of the Italian study are rather modest, when you consider the increased walking distance of all of the participants. In future, investigators will have to set up more trials to confirm their theory. And studies of dark chocolate will need to observe a much larger group of people and their consumption of chocolate over longer periods of time.
In the meantime, treat yourself to some of the healthy dark stuff. And try eating other polyphenol-rich foods like cloves, dried peppermint, celery seed, capers and hazelnuts, which all have less sugar and saturated fats than dark chocolate.
Weiss, D., “Dark Chocolate Gives People with Poor Leg Circulation More Mobility,” Guardian Liberty Voice website, July 2, 2014; http://guardianlv.com/2014/07/dark-chocolate-gives-people-with-poor-leg-circulation-more-mobility/.
Seaman, A.M., “Dark Chocolate May Ease Walking for Patients with Artery Disease,” Chicago Tribune website, July 3, 2014; http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-dark-chocolate-artery-disease-20140702,0,3384987.story.