The days of chocolate shaming are finally over, hooray! A new study reveals that eating chocolate—in moderation of course—could help prevent atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat. Researchers who studied over 55,000 Denmark adults found that eating two to six ounces of chocolate per week could reduce your risk of the heart condition by a fifth. So, the next time someone wants to shame you for devouring some chocolate, just let them know you’re mending your broken heart. Of course, remember, everything in moderation.
Now let’s get down to the business of A-fib and how to prevent it from affecting your body.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Your heart has two upper chambers called the atria, which normally contract in a steady rhythm, as well as two lower chambers called ventricles. When the two atria contract at an excessive and irregularly high rate, the blood flow to the two lower ventricles is compromised, causing A-fib.
How Does Chocolate Benefit Heart Health?
A Denmark study recruited 55,502 adults between 1993 and 1997, and gathered data on each subject’s diet, health and chocolate intake. Researchers found that participants who indulged in just 1 ounce of chocolate each week had a 17 percent lower risk of A-Fib, and those who ate 2-6 ounces per week reduced their risk of developing A-fib by 20 percent. But this doesn’t mean you can go cuckoo for cocoa. Researchers found that the chocolate’s power began to fade in participants who ate even larger amounts of chocolate.
Although there is no clear reason for why chocolate helps prevent A-fib, researchers have pinpointed antioxidants as the source of its power. The antioxidants in natural cocoa can help reduce inflammation and scarring in the blood stream, which may help prevent a disruption in the atria.
In another chocolate study, published last year in the UK, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Researchers studied the chocolate consumption of 1,153 people between the ages of 18-69, and found that those who ate more chocolate saw an improvement in their liver enzyme levels. It’s worth noting that the chocolate eaters also tended to be in the younger range, physically active and more educated. While this may not be the case for everyone, the researchers determined that cocoa might decrease the risk of cardiometabolic diseases due to the improvement in liver enzyme levels.
How Do You Prevent Atrial Fibrillation?
Given that A-fib affects your heart, eating a healthy diet is one of the easiest ways to lower your risks of being affected.
“If you have normal blood pressure, normal fasting blood sugar, normal hemoglobin, normal LDL cholesterol, and decreased inflammation, you will have between 75 and 90 percent fewer heart attacks and fewer episodes of atrial fibrillation than the typical American,” says Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Michael Roizen. Because these risk factors are associated with maintaining a well-balanced diet, clean eating can help keep these numbers in a healthy range.
Eat as much Fish as You’d Like
Cold water fish are high in omega 3’s, which protects your heart from diseases and irregularities. Salmon, herring sardines and mackerel are among some of the best fish to eat in order to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, regularly eating these types of fish can help reduce the risk of death from heart disease by up to 36%.
Keep Your Sodium Levels Low
High blood pressure is a major risk factor of A-fib, so in order to keep your heart beating regularly, your sodium levels need to be kept in check. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension advises that we eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Substituting salt with herbs and spices, while reducing your intake of processed foods, can help lower high blood pressure.
Don’t Binge on Alcohol
Just like a little chocolate helps your heart, a little wine can do the same, but only when we don’t go overboard. Ingesting 35 drinks in one week can trigger A-Fib in men, and women are at even greater risk. As little as two drinks per day can actually increase the risk of an A-fib attack in some women by 60%.
While the result of the chocolate study is definitely something to celebrate, we’re not talking a Snickers bar. Chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is always the best to eat when considering your health. Pair that with a nutritious diet, and you’ve got the keys to heart health.