Researchers at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute followed more than 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 for about a decade, CNN reports. Men who ate the most chocolate over that timespan -- about 2.2 ounces a week -- had a 17% lower risk of having a stroke compared to those who ate little or no chocolate.
The scientists then pooled their data with that from previous studies, including a 2011 one they did involving women, and found that overall, men and women who ate the most chocolate had a 19% lower risk of stroke, compared to those who ate the least.
"This was a meaningful reduction in stroke risk, and the results seem to be valid, given the high number of patients," Dr. Jonathan Friedman, a neurosurgeon at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, told CNN.
The study, published Wednesday, Aug. 29, in the journal Neurology, adds to the growing evidence that chocolate has heart-healthy properties.
The antioxidant compounds found in chocolate, flavonoids, have been shown to lower blood pressure, increase "good" cholesterol (HDL) and improve arterial function. Flavonoids may also thin the blood and prevent clotting, which could help stave off heart attacks and strokes.
However, the authors noted that other substances in chocolate -- as well as certain traits associated with chocolate lovers -- could just as easily explain the findings.
Chocolate-eaters as a group tended to be better educated and healthier than their peers. (Not surprising at all!) They were less likely to smoke or have high blood pressure, and were also less likely to have the heart-rate abnormality known as atrial fibrillation, a major risk factor for stroke.
The researchers did try to carefully control for these and other health measures (such as diet, body mass index and physical activity), however.
In a strange oversight, the researchers didn't ask what type of chocolate the men ate, which is important because cocoa content varies widely by variety, from as little as 30% in milk chocolate to 90% and up in dark chocolate. The study did note that 90% of the chocolate consumed in Sweden is milk chocolate (Marabou, anyone?).
We guess we could force ourselves to eat a chocolate bar every week. Thanks, Sweden! Between advocating for chocolate consumption and sending Alexander Skarsgard to America, you're our favorite country right now.