The next part in my ongoing series of how to lower your own blood pressure levels turns to the dessert aisle. Can powerful cocoa products, dark chocolate in particular, work to your advantage?
The initial observations of the blood-pressure-lowering effects of cocoa products (dark chocolate and cocoa drinks) came from the Kuna Indians who live on islands off the Panama coast.
High blood pressure was rare in the Kuna Indians primarily due their high consumption of natural cocoa drinks rich in flavanols. In contrast, those Kuna Indians who live in Panama City consume cocoa from the local grocery stores, devoid of flavanols. The mechanisms by which cocoa products lower blood pressure are unknown. It is speculated that cocoa products may increase the amount nitric oxide known to dilate blood vessels in addition to the inhibition of “angiotensin-converting enzyme” (ACE) by flavanol-rich nuts.
The meta-analysis covered 10 randomized controlled trials involving 297 both healthy subjects and those with prehypertension or stage-one hypertension randomized to cocoa products or placebo for two to 18 weeks. It was found that cocoa products lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4.5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 2.5 mmHg.
The blood pressure-lowering effects reported in this meta-analysis were comparable to another meta-analysis on dark chocolate. The latter study found that the sweet food dropped systolic blood pressure by 4.7 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.8 mmHg.
So, Can Eating Chocolate Help Drop Your Blood Pressure?
The most recent meta-analysis of chocolate’s effect on blood pressure involved 15 studies and came to these conclusions:
- The blood pressure-lowering effect of cocoa-chocolate products was only significant for those with prehypertension or high blood pressure. In those with high blood pressure, systolic levels dropped 5.0 mmHg and diastolic levels 2.7 mmHg. This decline of 5.0 mmHg systolic blood pressure with cocoa products is comparable to other lifestyle modifications, such as moderate exercise (30 minutes/day), which tend to lower systolic levels by 4.0-9.0 mmHg. What’s more: a 5.0-mmHg systolic drop translates to a reduction in the risk of a cardiovascular event by 20% over the next five years.
- Dark chocolate can be considered superior to placebo in lowering systolic levels for those with high blood pressure and diastolic levels in those with pre-hypertension.
- Flavanol-rich chocolate did not significantly lower mean systolic blood pressure below 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure below 80 mmHg.
Here are the previous parts of this blood pressure series:
Foods that Raise Blood Pressure
What You Need to Understand About Blood Pressure
The Doctors’ Solution for Hypertension
DASH to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Four Minerals to Combat High Blood Pressure
The Protein to Lower Blood Pressure