ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
If you need a little chocolate fix this afternoon, don't feel guilty - emphasis there on little. Researchers say eating just a small amount of chocolate is linked to a significant decline in the risk of a common heart condition. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: There's a rich body of evidence that links dark chocolate to good heart health. Now comes a new study that adds an interesting twist. Researchers have found that people who are in the habit of eating a little chocolate each week have a significantly lower risk of developing a common heart condition - atrial fibrillation. Here's Tom Sherman, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center.
TOM SHERMAN: Atrial fibrillation, or afib as you say, is a abnormal heart rhythm. It's typically characterized by a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
AUBREY: Around the globe, it affects about 33 million people. And those who have afib have a higher risk of strokes, heart failure and cognitive impairment. Now, to understand how chocolate can influence the risk of afib, researchers turned to a study of some 55,000 middle-aged adults in Denmark.
All of them filled out detailed questionnaires about their lifestyle, everything from how much they exercised to what they ate and drank each day, including how much chocolate they consumed. Here's study author Elizabeth Mostofsky of the Harvard School of Public Health.
ELIZABETH MOSTOFSKY: And these people were followed over time so that we were able to identify all the diagnoses of atrial fibrillation.
AUBREY: Mostofsky expected to see a modest benefit for regular chocolate eaters. Prior studies had shown that compounds in cocoa can suppress inflammation, which can help protect the heart. But she says when she and her colleagues documented a 20 percent reduction in afib risk linked to just two or more servings a week, she was surprised, especially since many of the people in the study ate milk chocolate, which contains less of the beneficial cocoa compounds.
MOSTOFSKY: Well, we were pleasantly surprised that despite the fact that most of the chocolate may have relatively low cocoa concentrations, we were still able to see robust findings suggesting that perhaps the results would be even stronger if we were looking at high levels of dark chocolate.
AUBREY: And Georgetown professor Tom Sherman, who was not involved in the study, says there was another surprise from the findings, too.
SHERMAN: You don't have to eat chocolate every day to be able to get what is a clinically significant finding. Once or twice a week decreases the risk of atrial fibrillation.
AUBREY: And he says a small 1 ounce sized serving is all you need. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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