Willy Wonka may have been on to something. Regularly eating chocolate could possibly help prevent a type of irregular heartbeat that can increase the risk of heart failure, strokes, and cognitive impairment, according to a study published Tuesday in Heart. Live Science reports between 2.7 million and 6.1 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, in which the upper chambers of the heart beat at a different pace than the lower chambers. But a study of 55,000 adults in Denmark found that those who ate chocolate at least once a month had rates of atrial fibrillation 10% to 20% lower than those who ate it less than once a month. The best results came from eating an ounce of chocolate two to six times per week.
It's impossible to say based on the study whether chocolate consumption was directly responsible for lower rates of atrial fibrillation. Researchers also aren't clear how chocolate could even affect the development of the condition, but it may have something to do with things called flavanols, the Los Angeles Times reports. Atrial fibrillation is thought to be caused by molecules damaging heart tissue. The flavanols in chocolate can stop inflammation that leads to tissue damage. "As part of a healthy diet, moderate intake of chocolate is a healthy snack choice," Reuters quotes the study's lead author as saying. Though it's important to choose chocolate with a higher cocoa content. (And you should probably also take it easy on the ibuprofen.)