Consumption of certain chocolates and cocoas may positively affect cardiovascular health, new research presented at the Unofficial Satellite Symposium of the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2001 this week suggests. Dr. Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, presented findings from research conducted in Central America and Boston suggesting that consumption of cocoa, rich in naturally occurring flavanols (a sub-group of naturally occurring flavonoids), appears to activate a mechanism thought to be critical for regulating blood pressure and, therefore, for maintaining cardiovascular health. As researchers examined why members of the Kuna Amerinds in Central America do not display an increase in blood pressure as they age, researchers found that the Kuna have an increase in renal (kidney) blood flow along with a sharp increase in the rate of fluid filtering through the kidneys. Notably, the Kuna consume on average five cups of cocoa a day and include cocoa in many of their recipes. To test the hypothesis that the large amounts of cocoa consumed by the Kuna have an effect on renal function, the researchers studied the effects of cocoa consumption with a group of Boston volunteers. The Boston participants were fed cocoa with either a high amount or low amount of flavanols. In the Boston subjects, consumption of the high-flavanol cocoa, but not the low-flavanol cocoa, resulted in increases in renal blood flow and filtering. The increases in renal flow and filtering display a pattern consistent with a mechanism believed to be associated with the maintenance of blood pressure and, thus, cardiovascular health. ``Being able to study a geographically isolated, relatively genetically homogeneous sample, the members of which also consume large quantities of cocoa presents an amazing opportunity in chocolate and health research,'' said Norman Hollenberg. "Although the research is in preliminary stages, it could lead to several new discoveries with regards to the potentially beneficial effects of certain flavanol-rich chocolates and cocoa on cardiovascular health.'' The Kuna Amerinds is an indigenous group residing in isolated islands off the coast of Central America. As a group showing no tendency for blood pressure to rise with age, they were initially sought to study the genetics of hypertension. But, when Kuna who had migrated to urban areas were found to have developed high blood pressure, researchers deduced that the members' low tendency toward hypertension was environmental and not genetic. Subsequently, a food intake survey revealed the large amounts of cocoa that Kuna consume each day, and researchers began to explore the hypothesis that cocoa could be involved in protecting the Kuna from hypertension.