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Soy and Cacao Flavonoids May Reduce Heart Risk in Diabetic Women

Type 2 diabetes, nutrition, soy, cacao, flavonoids

Flavonoids are plant compounds that have a wide range of potential health benefits. Higher intakes of soy and cacao flavonoids have been associated in a recent small study with a reduction of cardiovascular risk in postmenopausal women with Type 2 diabetes.

Peter J. Curtis PhD and colleagues studied 93 medicated postmenopausal women with diabetes who were randomly selected to receive 27 grams per day of flavonoid-enriched chocolate containing 850 mg flavan-3-ol (epicatechin) and 100 mg of isoflavones (aglycone equivalents) or a matched placebo. The researchers note that even though the women were receiving medications such as statin drugs and hypoglycemic agents, they were still at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

At the end of the one-year trial, the women receiving the intervention therapy had significant improvements in biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk compared to those taking the inactive ingredients. Those receiving the flavonoids experienced a significant reduction in estimated peripheral insulin resistance (failure of target tissues to increase glucose disposal in response to insulin) and an improvement in insulin sensitivity. The women also had reduced their total cholesterol:HDL-cholesterol ratio and LDL-cholesterol levels.

The global prevalence of diabetes is increasing, note the authors of the study published in the February 2012 issue of Diabetes Care journal. Observational studies suggest that women experience a poorer metabolic control, suggesting potential gender differences in the mechanisms underlying disease progression.

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The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a food label health claim that says 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy protein alone may reduce LDL cholesterol levels by about 5%, and even a small drop decreases overall risk. Soy components may also help blood vessels work better and ultimately reduce blood pressure.

Soy foods are also low on the Glycemic Index, the measure of how fast a food raises blood glucose levels. Soy may also improve how insulin works in the body and its high fiber content can be a great asset to weight control efforts. Adding soy to the diet can be as easy as replacing meat with tofu or tempeh or substituting soymilk for cow’s milk. Soy flour is also available for baking.

Cacao, a component of chocolate, may help keep blood sugar in check due to proanthocyanidins, a type of flavonoid known to have antioxidant properties. This chemical has previously been found to decrease serum glucose, glycosylated protein (HbA1c), and serum urea nitrogen (a marker of kidney health) in mice with Type 2 diabetes. It may also prevent oxidative stress which can lead to cellular damage in diabetic patients.

However, because most chocolate is high in added sugar and fat, diabetics are not encouraged to go out and eat a lot of candy bars. Small amounts of dark chocolate are higher in flavonoids than milk chocolate (white chocolate has none), but remember the key word is small. Cocoa powder and baking chocolates contain the most flavonoids without excess sugar.

Source References:
Curtis P. J. et al, Chronic Ingestion of Flavan-3-ols and Isoflavones Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Lipoprotein Status and Attenuates Estimated 10-Year CVD Risk in Medicated Postmenopausal Women With Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care 2012, 35, 226 - 232.
Takako Yokozawa, Eun Ju Cho, Chan Hum Park, and Ji Hyun Kim, “Protective Effect of Proanthocyanidin against Diabetic Oxidative Stress,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 623879, 11 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/623879



When processed properly, dark chocolate has more antioxidants than any food known on the planet.  So it really doesn't matter what the cocoa content is if the beans are not processed property. Commercial processing destroys most of the fragile antioxidants. The only way you can be sure you are getting the health benefits is to choose a chocolate that has been certified for the amount of antioxidants as well as the amount of flavonoids.  Also, choose a chocolate that has no processed sugars (even organic processed sugars!), no bad fats nor caffeine.