Want a Healthy Heart? Eat Chocolate, New Study Says

It's long been said that indulging in chocolate may be the quickest way to fix a broken heart. Well, it turns out some aspects of that quaint idea may actually be true: A new study found eating chocolate could help prevent atrial fibrillation—a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat.

Published in the medical journal Heart on Tuesday, the study discovered adults who snacked on chocolate one to three times a month were 10 to 20 percent less likely to suffer from atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, than those who had chocolate once a month or less.

For the study, researchers analyzed long-term data regarding the diets of more than 55,500 people in Denmark. Participants—men and women ranging from 50 to 64 years old—submitted information related to their eating habits when they entered the study between 1993 and 1997. Researchers then pulled data from Denmark's national health registry and determined which participants had been diagnosed with AFib since the study first started. They found nearly 3,350 people had been diagnosed with the heart condition over an average of 13.5 years.

Based on data submitted at the start of the study, people who consumed about one ounce of chocolate a week 17 percent less likely to develop AFib by the end of the study compared to people who ate less than an ounce of chocolate a month. People who consumed two to six ounces of chocolate a week were even less likely—some 20 percent—to develop AFib by the end of the study.

For women, eating just one serving of chocolate a week resulted in their having the least likelihood of an AFib diagnosis, while the biggest risk reduction for men came with consuming two to six servings of chocolate per week.

With as many as 6.1 million Americans estimated to be suffering from AFib, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study's lead author, Elizabeth Mostofsky of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told Reuters that the research proves eating moderate amounts of chocolate could be beneficial for people suffering from the ailment.

"I think our message here is that moderate chocolate intake as part of a healthy diet is an option," she said.

Considered the most common type of heart arrhythmia, AFib is a condition that causes the heart's two upper chambers (the two atria) to beat at a different pace than the two lower chambers. The condition could disrupt the blood flow within the heart, which could lead to chest pain and heart palpitations.

Chocolate isn't the only food that has been shown to help combat heart disease and its complications. Back in 2016, researchers found Mediterranean diets high in fruit, vegetable, fish and legume consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 33 percent.