Cocoa's heart benefits given another boost

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Atherosclerosis

Consumption of the polyphenol-rich cocoa may cut cholesterol
levels, says a new study from Japan that adds to the ever-growing
body of science supporting the potential heart health benefits of
chocolate.

The new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition​, followed the effects of different levels of supplementation of cocoa powder on cholesterol levels of 160 normocholesterolemic and mildly hypercholesterolemic humans. "The results suggest that polyphenolic substances derived from cocoa powder may contribute to a reduction in LDL cholesterol, an elevation in HDL cholesterol, and the suppression of oxidized LDL,"​ wrote lead author Seigo Baba from Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd and collaborators from Ochanomizu University. High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) which causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169 billion ($202 billion) per year. Baba and co-workers randomly assigned the subjects to receive a containing low-polyphenolic compounds (placebo-cocoa group) or three different levels of cocoa powder - 13, 19.5, and 26 grams per day - for four weeks. In all three high-polyphenol cocoa groups, blood levels of oxidised LDL concentrations decreased compared with levels observed at the start of the study. Oxidation of LDLs is thought to play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Increasing LDL's resistance to oxidation is thought to possibly delay the progression of the disease. Certain polyphenols present in a wide variety of plants have long been known to inhibit LDL oxidation. Separate analysis using data from 131 subjects who had elevated LDL cholesterol levels of 3.23 mmol/L at baseline - the normal/ desirable LDL level is reported to be less than 2.6 mmol/L (100 mg/dL). In these subjects, blood levels of LDL cholesterol, oxidized LDL, and apoB concentrations decreased, while levels of HDL cholesterol increased, relative to baseline levels in all three cocoa groups. ApoB is the main apolipoprotein of LDL cholesterol and is responsible for the transport of cholesterol to tissues. In high concentrations it has been linked to plaque formation in the blood vessels, although the mechanism behind this is not clear. The study adds to a wealth of other studies reporting potential benefits of polyphenol-rich cocoa products against a wide range of conditions including blood pressure, diarrhoea, breast cancer prevention and decreasing the effects of aging on the brain. The chocolate industry has however already profited from the wave of positive health effect of cocoa, with producers increasingly highlighting polyphenol content on their labels. CocoaVia, from Mars, and Acticoa, by Barry Callebaut, both boast high polyphenol content and are marketed as healthy options. The Mars Nutrition for Health & Well-Being is a new range from the confectionary giant aimed at consumers who want to be healthy but are reluctant to give up chocolate completely. Source: Journal of Nutrition​ June 2007, Volume 137, Pages 1436-1441 "Plasma LDL and HDL Cholesterol and Oxidized LDL Concentrations Are Altered in Normo- and Hypercholesterolemic Humans after Intake of Different Levels of Cocoa Powder" ​Authors: S. Baba, M. Natsume, A. Yasuda, Y. Nakamura, T. Tamura, N. Osakabe, M. Kanegae and K. Kondo

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