Cocoa offers ‘consistent’ benefits for heart health: Meta-analysis

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Cocoa offers ‘consistent’ benefits for heart health: Meta-analysis

Related tags: Cocoa, Blood pressure

Consumption of cocoa and the compounds it contains offer significant and ‘consistent’ benefits to blood flow and blood pressure, says a new meta-analysis of 42 studies.

Chronic consumption of cocoa was associated with a 1.3% improvement in blood flow, while acute consumption was associated with a 3.4% improvement, according to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

Researchers led by Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia also noted that cocoa’s “previously unreported promising effects on insulin”​.

Cocoa’s benefits

The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been gathering increasing column inches in the national media. To date studies have reported potential benefits for cardiovascular health, skin health, and even brain health.

The majority of science into the potential benefits of cocoa have revolved around cardiovascular benefits of the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin.

Recently, however, scientists from the University of Reading in England and Mars reported that cocoa may also affect gut microflora and possess prebiotic potential.

Cocoa offers ‘consistent’ benefits for heart health: Meta-analysis

Consumption of cocoa and the compounds it contains offer significant and ‘consistent’ benefits to blood flow and blood pressure, says a new meta-analysis of 42 studies.

Chronic consumption of cocoa was associated with a 1.3% improvement in blood flow, while acute consumption was associated with a 3.4% improvement, according to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

Researchers led by Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia also noted that cocoa’s “previously unreported promising effects on insulin”​.

Cocoa’s benefits

The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been gathering increasing column inches in the national media. To date studies have reported potential benefits for cardiovascular health, skin health, and even brain health.

The majority of science into the potential benefits of cocoa have revolved around cardiovascular benefits of the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin.

Recently, however, scientists from the University of Reading in England and Mars reported that cocoa may also affect gut microflora and possess prebiotic potential.

Meta-analysis

The reviewers pooled data from 42 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of chocolate, cocoa, or flavan-3-ols.

Results showed that acute and chronic cocoa consumption were associated with a 3.4% and 1.3%, respectively, increase in flow-mediated dilation (FMD), a measure of a blood vessel's healthy ability to relax.

This is consistent with a recent review by Harvard scientists that reported a 1.5% increase in FMD (Journal of Nutrition​).

The new meta-analysis also found that cocoa consumption reduced diastolic blood pressure by an average of 1.60 mmHg and mean arterial pressure by 1.64 mmHg.

“Marginally”​ significant effects on cholesterol levels were reported.

“Chocolate or cocoa improved FMD regardless of the dose consumed, whereas doses greater than 50 mg epicatechin/d resulted in greater effects on systolic and diastolic BP,”​ wrote Hooper and her co-workers.

“Larger, longer-duration, and independently funded trials are required to confirm the potential cardiovascular benefits of cocoa flavan-3-ols,” ​they answered.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.023457
“Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials”
Authors: L. Hooper, C. Kay, A. Abdelhamid, P.A. Kroon, J.S. Cohn, E.B. Rimm, A. Cassidy

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