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Dark chocolate may aid blood pressure, study says

CHICAGO -- A small study suggests that eating dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure -- a delicious instance in which something that tastes good might, for a change, be good for you, too.

The short study would need to be confirmed in larger, longer-term ones before doctors could recommend treatment with chocolate, researchers say.

Yet if the results can be confirmed, "you can sin with perhaps a little less bad feeling," said Dr. Franz Messerli, a hypertension specialist at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.

The German study appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Thirteen adults with untreated mild hypertension got to eat 3-ounce chocolate bars every day for two weeks. Half of the patients got white chocolate, half got dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate contains plant substances called polyphenols -- ingredients scientists believe are responsible for the heart-healthy attributes of red wine. Polyphenols also have been shown to lower blood pressure in animals.

Blood pressure remained pretty much unchanged in the group that ate white chocolate, which does not contain polyphenols. But after two weeks, systolic blood pressure -- the top number -- had dropped an average of five points in the group that ate dark chocolate. The lower, or diastolic, reading fell an average of almost two points. The participants had an average blood pressure reading of about 153 over 84.

While their blood pressure did not fall enough to be considered in the desirable range -- below 120 over 80 -- the results show that dark chocolate "might serve as a promising approach to reduce systolic blood pressure," said lead author Dr. Dirk Taubert of the University of Cologne.

The study received no industry funding. The researchers bought the chocolate themselves.

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