Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common arrhythmia affecting about 2.7 million Americans and nearly 200,000 people are diagnosed with AF annually. AF is often found on routine examination because many patients do not present with symptoms. Symptoms, when they occur, include palpitations, shortness of breath and fatigue. Patients also note racing of the heart, dizziness and even sometimes chest pain or pressure. AF is a leading cause for blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other cardiac complications. The incidence of AF is greater in men, and particularly in men who have underlying coronary artery disease. However, women are more likely than men to develop complications from AF and at an older age.
There have been several studies that have indicated regular consumption of chocolate—especially dark chocolate—to be linked to reduction in risk for cardiovascular events. This effect has been proposed to be due to the high flavonoid content of chocolate; however, results from recent Danish study indicate people—in particular men—who consume moderate amounts of chocolate on a regular basis may have reduced risk for developing AF with regular intake of the sweet treat.
An analysis in over 55,000 people enrolled in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study (aged 50-64 years) found in over 13 years of follow up, there were 3346 cases of AF. When compared with chocolate intake of less than once per month, the rate of AF was 10% lower in those consuming one to three servings per month, at a hazard ratio of 0.90 (95% CI 0.82–0.98). After taking confounding factors (primarily caffeine and coffee intake) into account, the relationship between increased chocolate consumption and reduced AF incidence was significant for both sexes but was greater for men (p for trend = 0.0002).
However, the authors caution, there is a slight bitter note: the benefit does plateau with more frequent consumption and patients would be wise to remember, “…chocolate does contain sugar and fat and is beneficial only in moderation.”