Could Dark Chocolate Help Ease Poor Leg Circulation?

In a recent article in HealthDay News it was reported that the antioxidants contained in dark chocolate might help people suffering from reduced blood flow to their legs, according to researchers from an Italian report.

In a small study, people with artery problems in their legs walked a little longer and farther right after eating a bar of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. Researchers believe polyphenols improve blood flow to the legs by affecting biochemicals that prompt arteries to widen.

The body secretes chemicals that naturally dilate blood vessels in response to certain stimuli, improving the blood flow to certain areas. Some of the chemicals inside dark chocolate could affect the way these enzymes are metabolized in the body.

The pilot study involved 20 people aged 60 to 78 who suffered from peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs, stomach, arms and head. Reduced blood flow can cause pain, cramping or fatigue in the legs or hips while walking.

In the study, patients walked on a treadmill in the morning and again two hours after eating 40 grams of dark or milk chocolate which is the size of an average American chocolate bar -- on separate days. The dark chocolate in the study had a cocoa content of more than 85 percent, making it rich in polyphenols. The milk chocolate, with a cocoa content below 30 percent, had far fewer polyphenols, the study authors noted.

After eating dark chocolate, patients walked an average 11 percent farther and 15 percent longer than they did earlier in the day. That's about 39 feet farther and about 17 seconds longer, according to the study, published July 2 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Milk chocolate did not improve time or distance, according to study co-author Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, assistant professor at the Sapienza University of Rome, and colleagues.

The researchers found that levels of nitric oxide, a gas linked to improved blood flow, were higher after eating dark chocolate. They suggested that the higher nitric oxide levels may be responsible for widening peripheral arteries and improving the patients' ability to walk.

While the study results and the theory are intriguing regarding identifying the way that polyphenols might affect blood flow to the legs, more research needs to be documented to confirm these observations. However, polyphenols also can be found in foods with less added sugar and saturated fats, such as cloves, dried peppermint, celery seed, capers and hazelnuts.

It is also noted that chocolate is also high in fat and sugar, and eating too much can contribute to other health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.

So before you run to the nearest candy store to stock up on dark chocolate, remember, everything in moderation. While the study results indicate that moderate amounts of chocolate might be helpful in improving blood flow to the legs, more research is needed.

If you do try eating dark chocolate in moderation and notice a difference in how far and how long you can walk, we’d love to hear from you.

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