Results from research carried out at the University of California reinforce the recent revelations concerning chocolate's potential cardiovascular benefits.
The review, published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA), contains evidence to suggest that the connection between chocolate and the heart may extend far beyond good ole' St. Valentine.
The scientists describe how some chocolates contain a high concentration of flavanols - a sub-class of naturally occurring flavonoids - may provide certain cardiovascular health benefits.
"Evidence is emerging from multiple research studies about the positive role that chocolate may play in a heart-healthy diet" said Carl Keen, a chocolate researcher and professor at the Department of Nutrition and Department of Internal Medicine, University of California.
The most recently discovered benefit of flavanol-rich cocoa and chocolate is possible platelet activity reduction, an effect similar to that of aspirin. Increased platelet function, or activity, is believed to be a factor in the formation of blood clots as well as the progression of atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries that can lead to coronary heart disease and strokes.
In addition, these flavanols are believed to help support healthy immune response, exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties, as well as acting as potent antioxidants and inhibiting oxidisation of lipids. The oxidisation of lipids, specifically LDL ('bad') cholesterol, has also been associated with atherosclerosis and other forms of heart disease.
Although Keen said that they were looking forward "to larger chronic studies that will assess the role of chocolate in maintaining cardiovascular health" , the scientists concluded that including moderate amounts of flavanol-rich chocolate "may allow for greater flexibility, adherence and palatability of an individual's meal plan, whilst still promoting cardiovascular health."