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Dark Chocolate Possible Prescription for High Blood Pressure

Researchers have found that chocolate – dark chocolate – is good for your heart. They say it may stave off hardening of the arteries among smokers, and it has more antioxidants per gram than red wine, green tea or berries. The latest study on chocolate shows it may be better for you than you think and that some people may even want to eat chocolate for medicinal purposes. VOA's Carol Pearson has the latest.

Chocolate lovers take heart. Doctors have known for some time that chocolate is good for you -- dark chocolate, that is.

"Our dark chocolate is 73 percent pure cocoa," says Sam Aboulhosn, who makes handmade, European-style chocolates at his chocolate shop near Washington, D.C. Although people buy his chocolate for its taste, not its medicinal value.

Researchers have found that eating some dark chocolate every day could help reduce high blood pressure. The study has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Dirk Taubert and colleagues at University Hospital of Cologne gave chocolate to 44 otherwise healthy people with high blood pressure. This is what they found: "The dark chocolate reduced the systolic blood pressure, the top reading of the blood pressure, by 2.9 units, and the diastolic blood pressure, the bottom reading of blood pressure by 1.9 units. The white chocolate had no effect on blood pressure," added Dr. Taubert.

Other studies show milk chocolate, white chocolate, or dark chocolate eaten with milk do not have the same benefits as plain dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate contains chemicals called polyphenols. Dr. Taubert says polyphenols in dark chocolate seem to increase the production of a substance in the body called nitric oxide, which causes the blood vessels to widen, making more room for the blood to flow and lowering blood pressure.

"Our study,” says the doctor, “provides sufficient evidence to recommend low amounts of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate as an addition to a healthy diet."

That's good news for people who have high blood pressure.

"That's a wonderful reason to have dark chocolate," adds a chocolate lover.

But some people may not like the taste. "There's a simple rule,” explains Dr. Taubert. “The [more] bitter the chocolate tastes, the more polyphenols [the] chocolate will contain."

And one other thing: no one in the study gained weight because the researchers found that only a very small amount -- seven grams of dark chocolate -- was sufficient to lower blood pressure by a few points.

"We were indeed surprised that such a low amount of chocolate could efficiently reduce the blood pressure," said Taubert. Which is good, because chocolate contains a lot of fat.

Dr. David Katz is a weight control specialist. He warns people not to eat too much of a good thing. "If you over indulge, then the benefits no longer win out."

And gaining weight is not good for people with high blood pressure.

Some video courtesy of The Journal of The American Medical Association