Food

European Cardiologists Find Drinking More Coffee and Eating Dark Chocolate Are Linked to Longer Lives

An apple a day? Forget it. Try four cups of coffee and olive-oil laced dark chocolate.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock / Africa Studio

Drinking four cups of coffee a day will help prolong one’s life and snacking on dark chocolate made from extra virgin olive oil will cut down on heart disease, according to two studies released this week at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.

The coffee study, which tracked 20,000 participants for a decade, said the four cups of coffee was especially impactful for people age 45 and older.

“In the SUN project we found an inverse association between drinking coffee and the risk of all-cause mortality, particularly in people aged 45 years and above,” said Adela Navarro, a cardiologist at Hospital de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, in ESC press materials. “This may be due to a stronger protective association among older participants.”

Previously, drinking several cups of coffee a day was thought to be unhealthy and even life shortening, she explained. But coffee consumption of this type had never been studied in a Mediterranean country. So 19,896 people, whose average age was nearly 38, joined a decade-long study. The cardiologists tracked coffee consumption, lifestyle, socio-economic factors, physical traits and prior health conditions. 

“Patients were followed up for an average of ten years,” Navarro said, describing the research. “During the ten-year period, 337 participants died. The researchers found that participants who consumed at least four cups of coffee per day had a 64% lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who never or almost never consumed coffee… There was a 22% lower risk of all-cause mortality for each two additional cups of coffee per day.”

Moreover, she said the older one was, the more coffee improved one’s health.

“In those who were at least 45 years old, drinking two additional cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of mortality during follow-up,” the study said. “The association was not significant among younger participants.”

Dark Chocolate Also Helps

The European Society of Cardiology also presented a report that found dark chocolate made with olive oil cut down the risk of heart attacks. They compared dark chocolate made with olive oil to dark chocolate made with Italian apples, which, eaten on their own, are beneficial to the heart. 

“A healthy diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist at the University of Pisa, Italy, in ESC’s press materials. “Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil and apples. Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants.”

This study followed 14 men and 12 women “with at least three cardiovascular risk factors (smoking, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, or family history of cardiovascular disease),” Di Stefano said. Each received “40 grams of dark chocolate daily for 28 days. For 14 consecutive days it contained 10% extra virgin olive oil and for 14 consecutive days it contained 2.5% Panaia red apple. The two types of chocolate were given in random order.”

“We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile,” she said. “Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our ‘repairing cells,’ the EPC (endothelial progenitor cells).”

“After 28 days, the researchers found that the chocolate enriched with olive oil was associated with significantly increased EPC levels and decreased carnitine and hippurate levels compared to both baseline and after consumption of apple-enriched chocolate,” Di Stefano continued. “Olive oil-enriched chocolate was associated with significantly increased high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol and decreased blood pressure compared to baseline. There was a non-significant decrease in triglyceride levels with apple-enriched chocolate.”

Who knew that these fixtures of stressed-out modern living would both prolong life and reduce heart disease? The European Society of Cardiology press releases did not mention what kinds of coffee beans (medium roast?) nor brands of chocolate were used in their study. But now there’s a scientific reason to find exactly the right kind to suit one’s taste. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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