New studies, published in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN), specify that cocoa flavanols lessen the cardiovascular disease risk associated with aging and stiffening of arteries.
“With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase,” said Professor Malte Kelm, Professor of Cardiology, Pulmonary Diseases and Vascular Medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf and Scientific Director of FLAVIOLA. “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.”
Arterial stiffness and blood vessel dysfunction are linked with cardiovascular disease; the number one leading cause of death leading to a chronic disease public health burden on a global scale.
Previous studies have linked a beneficial impact on cardiovascular disease based on flavanol consumption. Two new studies published in Age and BJN are the first to examine the differential, dietary impact of cocoa flavanols on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
The research participants for the first study consisted of two groups of men; 35 years of age and 50-80 years of age, who 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 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 research findings speifies 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).
The second study examined the health impact on 100 healthy middle aged men and women. (aged 35-60 years). 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 research data indicates that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%. Flow-mediated vasodilation is a sign of improved endothelial function and decreases the risk of developing CVD. In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), decreasing LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and increasing HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L).
Roberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm, Christian Heiss. Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114515002822