Older people who have trouble getting around because of poor blood flow to their legs may be able to walk a little longer and farther after eating dark chocolate, according to a new small Italian study.
People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) who ate a dark chocolate bar were able to slightly increase the time and distance they walked a couple of hours later, compared to people who ate milk chocolate, researchers found.
“Nutrients are key components of health and disease,” said Dr. Lorenzo Loffredo, the study’s lead author fromSapienza University in Rome.
He and his colleagues write in the Journal of the American Heart Association that compounds known at polyphenols, which are much more plentiful in dark chocolate than milk chocolate, may have something to do with the improved performance.
“In the context of atherosclerosis, following an appropriate diet is crucial for reducing the burden of vascular disease,” Loffredo wrote in an email. This study supports that idea, he said, as eating polyphenol-rich nutrients led to improved blood flow in the legs.
About one in five people ages 70 years and older living in Western countries is affected by PAD, the researchers write. In addition to being a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, the condition can cause legs to hurt and cramp while walking.
For the new study, the researchers recruited 14 men and six women who were in their late 60s, on average, and had them walk on a treadmill for as long as possible. The treadmill was set at about 2.2 miles per hour and a 12-percent grade.
Participants were then randomly assigned to eat a bar of either dark or milk chocolate and re-took the treadmill test two hours later.
The time and distance walked did not change between the first and second sessions for those who ate milk chocolate. Those who ate dark chocolate were able to walk for about 17 seconds longer and 39 feet farther than during their initial walk, however.
The researchers also measured a type of gas in the blood that has been linked to improved blood flow and found it was higher among those who ate dark chocolate, compared to those who ate milk chocolate.