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Dark Chocolate Boosts People’s Walking Ability

Update Date: Jul 03, 2014 09:32 AM EDT

For people who love dark chocolate, researchers have yet found another reason to eat it. In a new study, researchers from Italy examined the effects of the antioxidants present in dark chocolate on the walking ability in a small group of people. They concluded that dark chocolate could improve the blood flow in people's legs.

"Nutrients are key components of health and disease," said Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, the study's lead author from Sapienza University in Rome reported by FOX News.

In this study, the researchers recruited 20 older adults between the ages of 60 and 78. They all had peripheral artery disease, which is a condition characterized by narrow arteries that negatively impact blood flow from the heart to the brain, stomach, legs and hands. Slower blood flow can lead to symptoms such as pain, cramping and fatigue in the hips or legs. In order to relieve the participants' pain and improve their walking ability, the team tested the effects of dark chocolate, which contain polyphenols, and milk chocolate.

"Our body secretes chemicals that naturally dilate blood vessels in response to certain stimuli, improving the blood flow to certain areas," said Dr. Richard Chazal, vice president of the American College of Cardiology, who was not a part of the study. "Some of the chemicals inside dark chocolate could affect the way these enzymes are metabolized in the body."

The participants were divided into two groups. One group ate 40 grams of dark chocolate made with a cocoa content of more than 85 percent while the other group ate the same amount of milk chocolate, which contained a cocoa content of below 30 percent. All of the patients walked on a treadmill during the morning and then once again two hours after they ate the chocolate.

The researchers found that people who were in the dark chocolate group walked, on average, 11 percent further than people from the milk chocolate group. The people who ate dark chocolate were also able to walk 15 percent longer than they did during their earlier walk on the treadmill.

"The results are certainly interesting but modest, in terms of the walking distance improved," said Dr. Mark Creager, director of the Vascular Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who also serves as a spokesman for the American Heart Association according to WebMD. "With information such as this, one would anticipate these investigators will conduct a much larger trial with long-term treatment to confirm their observations."

Despite the findings, the experts Dr. Creager and Dr. Chazal do not recommend people to eat chocolate bars everyday just to improve walking distance by 39 feet. Even though dark chocolate might contain these powerful antioxidants, they also have ingredients that are bad for the body. The experts stated that instead of dark chocolate, people can get polyphenols in other foods that have a lower sugar and fat content, such as hazelnuts, capers and cloves.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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