European Union Consortium researchers report two studies that suggest that consuming cocoa flavanols – plant-derived bioactives from the cacao bean – may help to improve cardiovascular function and lessen the burden on the heart that comes with the aging and stiffening of arteries.
In the first study, Christian Heiss, from the University Duesseldorf (Germany), and colleagues enrolled two groups of 22 young (under 35 years) and 20 older (50-80 years) healthy men, to consume 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 aging, 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). The team observed that vasodilation was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols over the course of the study (by 33% in the younger age group and 32% in the older age group over the control intervention). As well, among the older age group, a statistically and clinically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure of 4 mmHg over control was also seen.
In the second study, Roberto Sansone, from the University Duesseldorf (Germany), and colleagues , enrolled 100 healthy middle-aged men and women (ages 35 to 60 years) with low risk of cardiovascular disease. 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 four weeks. The researchers also measured cholesterol levels in the study groups, in addition to vasodilation, arterial stiffness and blood pressure. The team observed that cocoa flavanols increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%.; as well as decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and decreased total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and raised HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L).
Taken collectively, the Consortium submits that flavanols are effective at mitigating age-related changes in blood vessels, and could thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy individuals.