Chocolate protects the heart 'by tackling high blood pressure'

Dark chocolate has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the heart in numerous studies, and now scientists know why.

Scientists from Linkoping University in Sweden found snacking on a slab of the cocoa-rich treat inhibits an enzyme in the body that is known to raise blood pressure.

In fact it was as effective as blood pressure drugs designed for the same purpose.

Lead researcher Ingrid Persson said: 'We have previously shown that green tea inhibits the enzyme ACE, which is involved in the body’s fluid balance and blood pressure regulation.

'Now we wanted to study the effect of cocoa, since the active substances catechins and procyanidines are related.'

Catechins and procyanidines are antioxidants that can reduce the damage oxygen can do to cells.

The team recruited 16 healthy non-smoking volunteers for the study. Two days before the study they were not allowed to eat chocolate or anything containing similar compounds, including many berries, nor could they drink coffee, tea, or wine.

Everyone in the group gave a blood sample both before and after eating 75 grams of unsweetened chocolate with a cocoa content of 72 per cent.

Scientists found ACE enzyme activity was reduced by 18 per cent three hours after the cocoa dose. This is comparable to the effect of drugs that inhibit ACE and are used as a first-choice treatment for high blood pressure.

When the activities of the enzyme decline, the blood pressure goes down with time. As expected, no such effect was found in the subjects. To show this, the study would have to continue over a longer period.

Drug researcher Ms Persson said: 'Our findings indicate that changes in lifestyle with the help of foods that contain large concentrations of catechins and procyaninides prevent cardiovascular diseases.'

By Daily Mail Reporter

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