Cocoa flavanols could be an important part of a healthy diet for people with cardiovascular disease
New findings indicate that cocoa flavanols may be an important part of a healthy diet for people with cardiovascular disease, which affects more than 80 million Americans, according to research by a team of internationally-renowned researchers, including scientists from Mars, Incorporated.
The breakthrough study conducted at the University of California San Francisco and published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) found that daily cocoa flavanol consumption more than doubled the number of circulating angiogenic cells (CACs) in the blood. These cells have been shown to have vessel repair and maintenance functions, which can contribute to healthy blood vessels. Poor blood vessel function is recognized as an early stage in the development process of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), including coronary artery disease. Increasing levels of CACs have also been associated with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular causes, according to a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Other cutting-edge research has demonstrated that physical activity and experimental drug therapy can increase CAC levels, however the study published in JACC is the first to demonstrate such benefits from a dietary intervention. In this randomized, double-masked, controlled dietary intervention trial, study participants drank either a high-flavanol cocoa drink, containing cocoa made with the Mars Cocoapro® process (which guarantees a consistent flavanol level), or a low-flavanol nutrient-matched control cocoa drink, twice a day for 30 days.
The study also showed that drinking high-flavanol cocoa significantly reduced systolic blood pressure, an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and improved blood vessel function by 47% compared to low-flavanol consumption in optimally-medicated adults with severe cardiovascular disease. This research supports findings previously published by Mars scientists and their academic collaborators, who have found a positive correlation between cocoa flavanols consumed and subsequent improvements in flow-mediated dilation (FMD), a measure of vessel health, i.e. the ability of a vessel to relax.
“It’s the best of both worlds. It’s not often that we’re able to identify a natural food compound that can demonstrate a benefit on top of traditional medical treatment,” said Carl Keen, PhD, Professor of Nutrition and Internal Medicine at University of California Davis and one of the study authors. “And perhaps most importantly, for the first time, we found that cocoa flavanols might even directly mobilize important cells that could repair damaged blood vessels. The benefits are substantial, without any observed adverse effects,” added study author Christian Heiss, MD, Heinrich-Heine University.
“Together with academic partners, Mars Incorporated has been studying cocoa flavanols for nearly two decades,” said Hagen Schroeter, PhD, Mars, Incorporated scientist and study co-author. “This is one of the most fascinating and potentially far-reaching findings we’ve uncovered in recent years, opening a completely new avenue of research to understand how cocoa flavanols might benefit human health. Of course, more research is needed to confirm and build upon these observations, but we’re intrigued by the potential for flavanols in the context of dietary and pharmaceutical strategies for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.”
Cocoa Flavanols: The Body of Evidence
A number of previously published studies already suggest that the consumption of cocoa flavanols can have important beneficial effects on the function of the body’s network of blood vessels. Yet, contrary to statements often made in the popular media, the collective research demonstrates that the cardiovascular effects of cocoa flavanols are independent of general "antioxidant" effects that cocoa flavanols exhibit in a test tube, outside of the body. The body of research not only suggests that these cocoa flavanols may provide a dietary approach to maintaining cardiovascular function and health, but also points to new possibilities for cocoa flavanol-based interventions associated with age-related blood vessel dysfunction and vascular complications of type 2 diabetes.