Could Hot Chocolate Alleviate Discomfort from Narrowed Leg Arteries?

Key Takeaways:

  • A small-scale study suggests that hot chocolate made from dark chocolate could potentially alleviate the discomfort experienced by those suffering from Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).
  • The dark chocolate consumed by the study participants was rich in the flavanol epicatechin, known to enhance blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Regular chocolate, which undergoes a process called “alkalization”, doesn’t contain as many flavanols and therefore, may not manifest similar benefits.
  • Cocoa consumers in the study demonstrated a 20% improvement in blood flow to their calves, enhanced muscle health, and function, akin to effects of supervised treadmill exercise interventions.
  • “Pleasant prevention,” includes consuming healthful foods rich in flavanols (like green vegetables, berries, apples, tea, and dark chocolate) in moderation, and considering the overall diet.
  • Although hot chocolate demonstrates promising results in PAD management, it should not replace other existing treatments but could serve as a supplementary approach.

Is it plausible that hot chocolate could present a sense of relief for individuals living with the distressing condition named Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)? The findings from a recent small-scale study suggest that yes, it is indeed entirely possible.

The Power of Dark Chocolate

Dismiss the image of a hot, sugary milk chocolate beverage with tiny marshmallows floating on top. The hot chocolate consumed by the study participants was produced from dark chocolate, leading to a less sweet, albeit potentially more beneficial, taste.

“Identifying a food-derived, cost-effective, and harmless nutritional treatment could genuinely enhance the walking capabilities of individuals affected by Peripheral Artery Disease,” said the study’s author, Dr. McDermott. She is an esteemed professor in the departments of medicine and preventive medicine at a prestigious university medical school located in Chicago.

The Impact of Peripheral Artery Disease

“Peripheral Artery Disease is a frequently found yet often overlooked condition,” remarked Dr. McDermott. She emphasizes this disorder is a significant cause of disability in individuals above 55 years of age. PAD incites a tightening in the blood vessels responsible for transporting blood from the heart to the legs. Frequent symptoms consist of pain—especially during walking, muscle cramping, and fluid retention in the leg muscles.

The results presented by this preliminary study, albeit conducted only on 44 individuals, are especially noteworthy given the lack of widely-recognized therapies available to aid those afflicted by PAD. Further research is indeed necessary to corroborate these findings.

The Chocolate Study

The beverage, provided by Hershey Company, was a concoction of natural, unsweetened cocoa powder—known to be rich in flavanol epicatechin, which is predominantly found in dark chocolate containing above 85% cacao. The dark chocolate is beneficial if it hasn’t undergone “alkalization”—a procedure meant to enhance taste. This process, however, eliminates some flavanols, thus potentially reducing the benefits. Hence, regular chocolate is not expected to manifest similar effects.

Study participants consumed a warm blend of milk or water, cocoa, and epicatechin powder, or a placebo, three times daily for six months. The average age of the participants was 72, and all were diagnosed with PAD.

While the cocoa drink added approximately 180 extra calories to a participants’ daily intake, this increase was not seen to proportionately affect weights during the research period.

The Power of Flavanols

Flavanols, compounds found in an array of plant-based foods, have been identified to enhance blood flow and reduce blood pressure, according to data from a prominent medical school.

Cocoa is an excellent source of flavanols, which are known for their positive impacts on blood flow and skeletal muscles. Thus, researchers took a keen interest in evaluating cocoa’s role in PAD management.

Dr. McDermott noted that the cocoa consumers demonstrated an impressive 20% improvement in blood flow to their calves, enhanced muscle health, and function, equivalent to what would be expected from supervised treadmill exercise interventions.

Pleasing Preventative Measures

Dr. Goldberg, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, popularized the term “pleasant prevention” which this study falls directly under. Flavonoids, she explains, are known to relax blood vessels and can be found in healthy foods like green vegetables, berries, apples, tea, and dark chocolate; however, it’s essential to consume these in moderation and always consider your entire diet.

According to her, although the flavanol epicatechin is available in pill form, it can be challenging to duplicate the full benefits of whole foods. She points out that consuming a food item in its entirety often proves more beneficial.

Dr. Goldberg also cautions that hot chocolate is not a replacement for other existing PAD treatments. Still, since it’s safe and largely side-effect-free (apart from the additional calories), it could serve as a supplementary approach to other medications.

For More Details

Read more about chocolate and its effects on your health from the American Heart Association.

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