Cocoa flavanols can protect cardiovascular health

The cacao bean derivatives lowered blood pressure and improved blood vessel function when consumed daily in two new studies.
By Stephen Feller  |  Sept. 10, 2015 at 1:27 PM
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DUSSELDORF, Germany, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Cocoa flavanols were found lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in two recent studies, potentially offering benefits that reduce the risk for developing cardiovascular diseases, or CVD.

Previous studies have shown benefits from dietary intake of flavanols, though they focused on smokers and people already diagnosed with some form cardiovascular disease.

Cocoa flavanols are bioactives found in the cacao bean, however they are also often destroyed in food processing, be it by cutting, chopping or cooking the beans.

"With the world population getting older, the incidence of CVD, heart attacks and stroke will only increase," said Dr. Malte Kelm, a professor at University Hospital Düsseldorf and scientific director of FLAVIOLA, in a press release. "It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on CVD risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels."

In the first study, published in the journal Age, researchers asked a group of 22 people younger than age 35 and 20 people between the ages of 50 and 80 to drink a beverage twice a day for two weeks that either contained flavanols or not.

They found that vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure, was 33 percent better among the young group and 32 percent better among the older group of participants who consumed flavanol-containing drinks than those who had flavanol-free drinks. A clinically-significant drop in systolic blood pressure was also found among participants who consumed flavanols.

For the second study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the researchers worked with a group of 100 men and women between the ages of 35 and 60 who were at low risk for developing CVD. The participants were randomly given beverages that either did or did not contain flavanols and asked to drink them twice a day for 4 weeks.

Researchers reported daily intake of flavanols increased vasodilation among the participants, as well as decreasing blood pressure and improving their cholesterol profile. After calculating their Framingham Risk Score, a measure of the 10-year risk for developing CVD, researchers saw a 22 percent reduction for CVD risk and 31 percent drop in the risk of having a heart attack among participants who consumed flavanols.

"The reduction seen in risk scores suggests that flavanols may have primary preventive potential for CVD," Kelm said.

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