Flavanols in cocoa again linked to heart benefits

March 30, 2010

    Small amounts of chocolate if very rich in Cocoa antioxidants may be enough to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. The statistics evaluation was performed by scientists at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany, assessed the health and habits of 19,357 people aged from 35 and 65, and evaluated their chocolate consumption for a period of at least ten years.
    The researchers found that those who ate cocoa rich chocolate - an average of 7.5 grams a day - had lower blood pressure and a 39 % lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount.
    Lead researcher, Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist, said that if people in the group eating the least amount of chocolate increased their intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a ten year period. He also claims that if the 39 % lower risk is generalised to the entire population, the number of avoidable heart attacks and strokes could be a higher percentage because the absolute risk in the general population is higher.
    Dr. Buijsse said that flavanols appear to be the substances in cocoa that are responsible for lowering blood pressure and boosting heart health. He said that these substances appear to improve the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels: "Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen; this may contribute to lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide also improves platelet function, making the blood less sticky, and makes the vascular endothelium less attractive for white blood cells to attach and stick around."
    And Buijsse also warned that it was important people ensured that eating chocolate did not increase their overall intake of calories or reduce their consumption of healthy foods. "Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable," he said. The German researchers found that during the eight years there were 166 heart attacks (24 fatal) and 136 strokes (12 fatal) with people in the top 25 % having a 27 % reduced risk of heart attacks and nearly half the risk (48 %) of strokes, compared with those in the lowest quartile. The study is published online ahead of print in the in the European Heart Journal.