Intake of dark chocolate, wine and being in a healthy relationship are good for the heart, says a cardiologist. "There are a couple of different theories behind why that might be," said Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D.
People who are married or who are in close, healthy relationships tend to be less likely to smoke, are more physically active and are more likely to have a well-developed social structure, she said.
They are also more likely to have lower levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day lives.
"There is a theory that people who are in loving relationships may experience neuro-hormonal changes that have positive effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system," Damp said, explaining that there are certain hormone levels in the body that vary depending on the level of an individual's stress and anxiety.
"This has not been proven, but the idea is that being in a relationship that is positive may have positive effects on your cardiovascular system over long periods of time," Damp said.
In fact, studies have shown that relationships that involve conflict or negativity are associated with an increase in risk for coronary artery disease.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.
Further study is needed to know exactly which type of chocolate and how much of it is the most beneficial, but studies have shown that people who eat chocolate more than once a week have lower risks of heart disease and stroke compare to people who eat it less frequently.
Flavonoids are also present in red wine. Multiple observational studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption, which is one drink a day for women and one to two for men, is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
However, Damp cautions that there is not enough evidence to encourage people who don't currently drink to start drinking.