Good news for chocolate lovers. Two new studies have found natural compounds in cocoa boost heart function and lower blood pressure.
The findings, published in the journals Age
and the British Journal of Nutrition
, are the latest to tally health benefits for consuming cocoa flavanols, Medical Xpress
The compounds improve cardiovascular function, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lessen the burden on the heart that comes with the aging and stiffening of arteries.
"With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase," said Malte Kelm, a professor of cardiology, pulmonary diseases and vascular medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf.
"It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on cardiovascular disease risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels."
As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and less able to expand to let blood flow and circulate normally, increasing the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of deaths worldwide.
The new studies are the first to examine the effects dietary cocoa flavanols can have on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
For the first study, two groups of healthy men consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or one without the compounds, twice a day for two weeks. The results showed those who consumed the flavanols had significant improvement in healthy blood vessel dilation and blood pressure.
For the second study, researchers tracked 100 healthy middle-aged men and women who were randomly assigned to drink either a flavanol-containing beverage or one without, twice a day for four weeks. The results showed those drinking the cocoa compound had lower levels of arterial stiffness, blood pressure, and cholesterol — all risk factors associated with heart disease.
"The reduction seen in risk scores suggests that flavanols may have primary preventive potential for [cardiovascular disease],” said Kelm.
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