New study finds cocoa flavanols improved heart health

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) has found that consuming cocoa flavanols lowers blood pressure and increases blood vessel function in healthy individuals.

The research, by scientists from Germany and the UK provides novel data to indicate that the intake of cocoa flavanols reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The researchers studied 100 healthy middle-aged men and women aged 35-60 who had a low risk of CVD. The participants were randomly assigned either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink twice a day for four weeks. The researchers measured cholesterol levels in the study groups in addition to vasodilation, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.

“We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health,” says Professor Kelm of the University Hospital Düsseldorf. In particular, the researchers found that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%. Increased flow-mediated vasodilation is a sign of improved endothelial function and has been shown by some studies to be associated with decreased risk of developing CVD.

In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol, decreasing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.

The researchers also calculated the Framingham Risk Score – a widely used model to estimate the ten-year cardiovascular risk of an individual – and found that flavanol intake reduced the risk of CVD. “Our results indicate that dietary flavanol intake reduces the ten-year risk of being diagnosed with CVD by 22% and the ten-year risk of suffering a heart attack by 31%,” said Kelm.