Cocoa Tied To Blood Flow Improvements

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Scientists have found that consuming cocoa flavanols -- naturally occurring compounds in cocoa -- may offer a benefit to those affected by type-2 diabetes.

Consuming a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage daily may have the potential to positively impact the blood vessel dysfunction associated with diabetes, suggests a first-of-its-kind study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by an international group of scientists. Study participants who regularly consumed a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage made using the Mars, Incorporated Cocoapro process experienced a 30 percent improvement in measured vessel function at the completion of a 30-day trial.

Poor blood vessel function is recognized as an early stage in the development process of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. For more than 20 million Americans living with diabetes, these vascular impairments can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke, the cause of death for two-thirds of those who suffer from diabetes. Despite good diabetes control and medical treatment, adults with the disease often continue to experience vascular dysfunction. This has led scientists on a search for novel medical or nutritional options to improve the health and quality of life for people with diabetes.

"We are still seeing the devastating complications of diabetes with the standard medical treatments available, so we are increasingly looking to lifestyle changes and new approaches to help address risks associated with diabetes," said Paul Zimmet, MD, PhD, Director of the International Diabetes Institute in Australia. "While more research is needed, this study shows tremendous potential for future flavanol-based applications."

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In this study, the impact of both immediate and regular consumption of a flavanol-rich cocoa drink on vascular function in diabetic adults was investigated. In the first part of this study, medically-treated adults with type 2 diabetes -- a population known to have impaired blood vessel function, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease -- drank a well-characterized and standardized cocoa beverage made using the Mars Cocoapro process that contained different flavanol levels, ranging from 75 to 963 milligrams, and had their blood vessel function measured for several hours following consumption. The researchers found a positive correlation between the flavanol dose consumed and immediate improvements in FMD (flow mediated dilation, a measure of vessel health, i.e. the ability of a vessel to relax).

In a subsequent controlled 30-day, double-masked clinical trial, adults with established diabetes who were medically controlled, drank either a flavanol-containing cocoa beverage or a low-flavanol control three times a day. The cocoa beverages contained either 25 milligrams of cocoa flavanols (control) or 321 milligrams of cocoa flavanols (treatment) and were matched for calories, nutrients and other cocoa compounds such as theobromine and caffeine

Beyond the immediate improvements in FMD following flavanol consumption, participants experienced sustained improvements in blood vessel function upon consuming the flavanol-containing cocoa over a period of 30 days (30 percent increase in FMD between day one and 30).

"We were pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of impact of cocoa flavanols on vascular function in these diabetic adults," said Mars, Incorporated Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz, PhD. "If a dietary intervention with cocoa flavanols can produce such profound, sustained improvements in vascular function on-top of standard medication in a population with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, the implications with regard to health and quality of life could be remarkable."

While this study is very promising, the researchers indicate that larger trials are necessary to fully demonstrate the clinical relevance of flavanol-rich foods in the context of cardiovascular health and disease.

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