Prior research revealed dark chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids, can reduce one's risk in cardiovascular disease and, more recently, new studies demonstrate similar dark chocolate cocoa compounds can reduce one's blood pressure.

According to a study conducted by lead researcher Karin Ried of the National Institute of the Integrative Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, discovered the compound flavanol, which is found in cocoa may be helpful in reducing blood pressure. Flavanols are believed to be responsible for the formation of nitric oxide in the body. The nitric oxide then triggers blood vessel walls to relax and open wider, which reduces blood pressure.

Ried investigated the effects of flavanols on blood pressure through data assessed from trials, where people consumed dark chocolate or cocoa powder containing 30 to 1,080 milligrams of flavanols in 3 to 100 grams of chocolate per day. Of the 856 individuals who were involved in 20 different trials that lasted either two to eight weeks or 18 weeks, the study demonstrated that the chocolate or cocoa powder lowered the individual's blood pressure by 2-3 mm Hg.

“Although we don’t yet have evidence for any sustained decrease in blood pressure, the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Ried said.

In other subset trials where individuals who consumed chocolate or cocoa powder were compared to individuals who consumed flavanol-free products, the beneficial effects were more pronounced resulting in a reduction of 3-4 mm Hg.

“We’ll also need to see long term trials, including effects on the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, before we can come to conclusions regarding clinical outcomes and potential side effects of long-term consumption,” said Ried. “These trials should use flavanol-free products in the control groups to eliminate any potential effects of low-dose flavanol on blood pressure.”

This study was published in The Cochrane Library.