The potential heart health benefits of polyphenol-rich cocoa powder may be related to a ‘novel mechanism’ of boosting HDL (good) cholesterol, says a new study from Japan.

February 04, 2011

    The majority of research into the potential benefits of cocoa has revolved around the cardiovascular benefits of the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins). While it is known that consumption of cocoa polyphenols may boost HDL cholesterol levels, and decrease LDL cholesterol levels, Japanese researchers state that “the mechanisms responsible for these effects of cocoa on cholesterol metabolism have yet to be fully elucidated”.

Here the Japanese researchers checked the affects of Cocoa antioxidants on human tissue. Cocoa improved Apolipoprotein A1; this makes HDL (the good cholesterol) better at pulling LDL (the bad cholesterol) away from the walls of arteries – this helps prevent heart disease. The Cocoa also decreased the level of Apolipoprotein B; this is what makes the bad cholesterol cling onto arterial walls causing hardening of the arteries.

Digging deeper into the potential mechanism, the researchers add that the cocoa compounds were also associated with an increase in sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs). “SREBP is primarily responsible for the regulation of genes involved in cholesterol biosynthesis and metabolism,” explained the researchers. “Therefore, these results suggest that cacao polyphenols participate in cholesterol metabolism.”

“These results elucidate a novel mechanism by which HDL cholesterol levels become elevated with daily cocoa intake,” they concluded. The study is published online ahead of print in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.