Studies show cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people

New studies by the EU-funded FLAVIOLA research consortium show that cocoa flavanols could help maintain cardiovascular health as we age

Two recently published studies in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) demonstrate that consuming cocoa flavanols, bioactive compounds from the cacao bean, improves cardiovascular function and lessens the burden on the heart that comes with the ageing and stiffening of arteries which reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The study also provides novel data to indicate that intake of cocoa flavanols reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in healthy people.

These two studies in Age and BJN are the first to look at the different effects that dietary cocoa flavanols can have on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Earlier studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanol intake improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure — but, for the most part, these investigations have focused on high-risk individuals like smokers and people that have already been diagnosed with conditions like hypertension and coronary heart disease.

In the study published in Age, two groups of 22 young (<35 years of age) and 20 older (50-80 years of age) healthy men consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for two weeks. The researchers then measured the effect of flavanols on hallmarks of cardiovascular ageing, such as arterial stiffness (as measured by pulse wave velocity), blood pressure and flow-mediated vasodilation (the extent to which blood vessels dilate in response to nitric oxide).

They found that vasodilation was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols during the course of the study (by 33% in the younger age group and 32% in the older age group compared with the control intervention). In the older age group, a statistically and clinically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure of 4mmHg compared with the control group was also seen.

In the second study, published in BJN, the researchers extended their investigations to a larger group (100) of healthy middle-aged men and women (35-60 years) with low risk of CVD. The participants were randomly and blindly assigned into groups that consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for 4 weeks. The researchers also measured cholesterol levels in the study groups, in addition to vasodilation, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.

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