FRIDAY, June 1, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- There's more sweet news about chocolate and your health: A new study suggests that eating a bit of dark chocolate each day may cut the odds of heart attack and stroke in high-risk people.
Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidant substances known to have heart protective effects. Until now, the potential benefits of dark chocolate on heart health have only been examined in short-term studies.
In the new study, Australian researchers used a mathematical model to predict the long-term health effects of daily consumption of dark chocolate among more than 2,000 people who had high blood pressure and what's known as the "metabolic syndrome" -- a group of conditions that increase a person's risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Daily consumption was set at 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of dark chocolate.
None of the participants had a history of heart disease or diabetes and none were receiving treatment to lower their blood pressure.
The researchers determined that 100 percent compliance with eating dark chocolate every day could potentially prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal cardiovascular events per 10,000 people over 10 years, while 80 percent compliance could prevent 55 non-fatal and 10 fatal cardiovascular events.
The mathematical model also indicated that promoting or subsidizing the daily consumption of dark chocolate at a cost of $42 per person per year would be a cost-effective strategy for reducing cardiovascular events in high-risk people, according to Ella Zomer and colleagues at Monash University in Melbourne.
The researchers stressed that protection against cardiovascular disease has only been shown for dark chocolate (at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa) and not for milk or white chocolate.
Experts in the United States had mixed views on the findings.
The new findings "will certainly get people with metabolic syndrome excited, but at this point these findings are more hypothetical than proven, and the results need real-life data to confirm," said Dr. Kenneth Ong, interim chair of the department of medicine and interim chief of cardiology at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.
Ong added that "consuming dark chocolate every day for 10 years may have unintended adverse consequences. The authors readily acknowledge that the additional sugar and caloric intake may negatively impact patients in this study, who are overweight and glucose intolerant to begin with."
But another expert said the Australian team is not the first to suggest that dark chocolate might help the heart.
"Multiple studies have shown the benefits of dark chocolate on preventing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes," noted Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "For those patients who are at a significant risk for cardiovascular events, like those who have the metabolic syndrome, a daily dose of 70 percent dark chocolate may be part of not only a healthy eating plan, but an integral component of a preventive prescription."
The study, which did not receive any food industry funding, was published online May 31 in the BMJ.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers heart disease prevention tips.