Chocolate: The Next Drug?

Chocolate HeartRecently, a clinical study was published evaluating the effect of flavanol rich chocolate (FRC) in patients with stable heart failure. Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a medical condition where the heart is not able to pump blood effectively. One of the treatment goals is to help blood vessels relax, or dilate, so the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard. Nitric oxide is a natural chemical in our bodies that can cause blood vessels to dilate; patients with CHF normally have decreased nitric oxide levels in their blood. Chocolate has been shown to improve the nitric oxide dependent blood vessels.

In this study, 22 patients were assigned to consume 40.8 grams of chocolate (FRC) or 24.8 grams of chocolate-flavored placebo twice daily. Researchers found that two hours after ingestion of their first dose, the artery diameter increased from approximately 5 percent to 6 percent. After two weeks into the study, arteries increased to 5.8 percent and after 4 weeks, it further increased to 6.7 percent for those patients in the chocolate treatment group. The size of the artery did not change in the patients who only received the chocolate-flavored placebo. While this study is small and the rest of the patients’ diet was not controlled, this is the first study to show a potential long-term benefit with flavanol-rich chocolate.

Although this study showed potentially positive results for patients with congestive heart failure, it’s important to note that additional and larger trials will be required before chocolate becomes a routine treatment for heart failure. It’s always important to discuss with your physicians all treatment options before making any changes.

As the holidays approach, remember, the next time you reach for a chocolate-covered goody, there may be some hidden benefits to consuming it on top of satisfying a sweet-tooth craving.

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Sandy Hong is currently a pharmacy resident at Virginia Mason Medical Center. She obtained her PharmD degree from Washington State University, and she is receiving extra training with Virginia Mason Medical Center’s pharmacy team.

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