Holiday treat treats heart failure

For the past week, I’ve talked a lot about holiday foods and spices with healing potential. Well, today’s traditional Christmas treat appears to prevent, manage and even cure one of the most frightening and troubling medical disorders of all.

As a reader of my Daily Dispatch and my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, you probably remember reading about the health benefits of flavanols. And one of the sources of these compounds is the cacao bean—which is used to make Chocolate.

The European world knew nothing about cacao until 500 years ago with the Spanish conquest of the native peoples of the Yucatan in modern-day Mexico. So, unlike the herbal gifts from the East that I told you about earlier in the week, this gift came from the West.

Cacao is naturally bitter. But the Spanish learned to sweeten it up by adding sugar and making chocolate. The rest of Europe followed suit. Chocolate makers in Belgium, England, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands soon began creating a popular sweet treat. Today, West Africa grows most of the world’s supply of cacao.

But, as I mentioned earlier, many people don’t realize cacao’s potential to treat the most serious of heart conditions…

A new study in the European Heart Journal shows the benefits of flavanol-rich chocolate in treating congestive heart failure (CHF). 

This serious medical condition comes on after decades of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. It ultimately arises when the heart stops pumping blood effectively. And if it’s not treated, CHF is fatal.

In the recent double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study, scientists followed 20 patients with congestive heart failure. They randomly gave half the patients commercially-available, flavanol-rich chocolate bars. The other half received plain chocolate bars. The patients ate the chocolate bars every day for four weeks.

Researchers found that blood vessel function “significantly improved” two hours after patients ate the flavanol-rich chocolate. They also showed improvements at the end of four weeks. Plus, “platelet adhesion” decreased over this time as well. (Meaning the patients’ blood was less likely to form dangerous clots.)

Patients who ate the regular chocolate bars experienced no improvements in their symptoms at the two- and four-week marks. They did experience improvements in platelet adhesion two hours after eating the regular chocolate bar. But this didn’t persist at the four-week mark.

The researchers concluded that “flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves vascular function in patients” with congestive heart failure.

Think of all the mainstream treatments that aim to keep patients from getting to this final stage, or end-state, of heart disease. Where they all generally fail, chocolate showed incredible benefits!

The authors themselves state, “as statins are ineffective in chronic heart failure, alternative therapies are a critical need.” 


Despite the hundreds of billions spent on dangerous drugs like statins, doctors often are unable to prevent and treat heart failure adequately. 

Your doctor, family, and friends may think natural treatments are less potent and less useful than drugs. Or, they may give them a little credit, but only for boosting your general health.

And while some drugs have their place in the treatment of high blood pressure, for example, here is evidence that a plant product may actually be better, safer and more potent than drugs for treating the most serious of all heart ailments—congestive heart failure. Plus, it’s pleasant and delicious besides.

And one more important—and interesting—note: The patients who ate the flavanol-rich chocolate did not experience spikes in blood sugar levels during the course of the study. However, the patients who ate regular (milk) chocolate did have decreased insulin sensitivity.

So go ahead and indulge in some chocolate this holiday. Just make sure to opt for dark chocolate (at least 75 or 80% cacao), since it has the highest flavonol content.

“Cardiovascular effects of flavanol-rich chocolate in patients with heart failure,” Eur Heart J 2012 Sep;33(17): 2,172-2,180
“Chocolate and cardiovascular disease: a sweet deal?” Eur Heart J. 2012; 33(17): 2,118-2,120