Older people who have trouble walking because of poor blood flow to their legs may be able to walk a little longer and farther after eating dark chocolate, according to a new small Italian study.
People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) who ate a dark chocolate bar were able to slightly increase the time and distance they walked a couple of hours later, compared to people who ate milk chocolate, the study showed.
The researchers speculate that natural compounds called polyphenols, which are more plentiful in dark chocolate than milk chocolate, may be responsible for the improved performance.
About one in five people aged 70 and older in North America is affected by PAD. In addition to being a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, the condition can cause pain and cramping in legs while walking.
For the study, the researchers recruited 14 men and six women in their late 60s and had them walk on a treadmill for as long as possible. The treadmill was set at about 2.2 miles per hour and a 12-percent grade.
Participants were then randomly assigned to eat a bar of either dark or milk chocolate and re-took the treadmill test two hours later.
The time and distance walked did not change between the first and second sessions for those who ate milk chocolate. Those who ate dark chocolate were able to walk for about 17 seconds longer and 39 feet farther than during their initial walk.
The researchers also measured a type of gas in the blood that has been linked to improved blood flow and found it was higher among those who ate dark chocolate, compared to those who ate milk chocolate.
The researchers stated a future study would need to look at a larger group of people and assess longer-term consumption of dark chocolate.
Typically, people diagnosed with PAD are advised to change lifestyle behaviors, such as by quitting smoking, improving their diet and exercise. Surgery to bypass blocked arteries is typically a last resort.
“It’s really an impetus to change your lifestyle, see your physician and clean up your act so to speak,” the lead researcher said.
Source: Journal of the American Heart Association, online July 2, 2014.
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