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It is heart breaking to watch a loved one having trouble walking because of poor circulation down their legs. However, a new study shows one thing that mind cheer them up and give greater people with poor leg circulation more mobility – dark chocolate!
For years people have sworn that chocolate of any kind is great for assuaging depression, tackling cramps, an antidote to dementors (or bad bosses), but it is only recently that the medicinal properties, and particularly the antioxidants in chocolate, have received greater attention and research.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the small Italian study showed that older people suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD), which narrows the arteries that carry blood to extremities and can be very painful, were able to slightly increase the time and distance they could comfortably walk a couple of hours after eating a dark chocolate bar. The researchers found that milk chocolate did not have the same affect.
Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, the Sapienza University study’s lead author pointed out that nutrients are the key components that impact health. The researchers in Rome noted in their study write up that polyphenols, antioxidant compounds that are more abundant in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate, probably lead to the improved performance. They believe the polyphenols improved blood flow by affecting body chemicals that prompted the participants’ arteries to widen.
The Italian study participants included 14 men and six women aged 60 to 78 who all suffered from PAD. The group was asked to walk on treadmills for as long as possible. They were assigned to eat 40 grams (the average size of American chocolate bars) of either dark or milk chocolate, and then repeat the treadmill effort two hours later. The process was repeated on another day too.
For those who ate the milk chocolate, there was no discernable difference in the time or distance the participants could walk. Conversely, those people with poor leg circulation who ate the dark chocolate had more mobility. They were able to walk an average 11 percent farther and 15 percent longer than they were able to earlier in the day.
The researchers measured gas in the blood that has been linked to improved blood flow and found it was higher for participants who ate dark chocolate, compared to those who ate the milk chocolate.
The researchers also found that levels of nitric oxide, a type of gas linked to improved blood flow, was higher among those eating dark chocolate than those who consumed the milk chocolate. The research group believes that the higher nitric oxide levels, possibly tied to the polyphenols, helped widen the peripheral arteries. The improved circulation improved the patients’ ability to walk.
Atherosclerosis and PAD are increasingly an issue as Baby Boomers age. Approximately one in five people age 70 years or older living in Western countries suffers from PAD, according to the researchers. The condition is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. It also causes legs or feet to hurt while walking.
A spokesman for the American Heart Association, Dr. Mark Creager, professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston and director of the Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, pointed out that the improvements were modest, but the results warrant a much larger study. Other experts pointed out the study’s value lies in identifying the affect polyphenols might have on circulation to extremities. However, they caution that people with poor leg circulation should not rush out an start consuming dark chocolate daily, as tempting as that sounds, to increase their mobility. Besides dark chocolate, polyphenols also can be found in cloves, celery seed, dried peppermint, capers and hazelnuts, which all have less sugar and saturated fats than a chocolate bar.
By Dyanne Weiss