Cocoa flavanols may help lower blood pressure, study finds. Cardiovascular health is essential to overall well-being and health. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, should be addressed early to reduce the risk of further complications. Lifestyle choices could help prevent blood pressure from rising above healthy levels.
A recent real-world study demonstrated that cocoa flavanols can reduce arterial stiffness and lower blood pressure in healthy adults, but only when blood pressure is high.
The health of the heart and blood vessels is essential to overall well-being. The heart pumps blood throughout the body, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Researchers are constantly studying the factors that affect and improve cardiovascular health. One area of interest is how a component of cocoa, specifically cocoa flavanols, can impact blood pressure and arterial stiffness. A recent study found that cocoa flavanols can actually lower blood pressure in people with ideal blood pressure, but not when it was already low, and reduce arterial stiffness.
The study was published in Frontiers.
The importance of cardiovascular health
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Certain risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease. For example, high blood pressure, too much cholesterol, and obesity can all increase the risk of developing heart disease. Controlling these factors, including medications and lifestyle changes, can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of more serious health problems. However, the response plan will be different for each person. Healthy people can take specific steps to reduce their chances of developing certain risk factors such as high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and is considered the ‘silent killer’ because there is no way to know you have it other than by measuring your blood pressure . But one can lower their blood pressure “by making lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, staying active and watching their weight to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack.”
Cocoa, blood pressure and arteries
The researchers of the current study note that previous controlled clinical intervention studies have demonstrated the blood pressure lowering and arterial stiffness reducing effects of cocoa flavanols (HR) in healthy humans. However, because these studies were conducted in tightly controlled settings, the researchers wanted to see how this intervention performed in real-life scenarios. The researchers used a study design in which a small number of participants were exposed multiple times to the same intervention or placebo. They then compared the results for each individual as well as between individuals.
The study involved eleven healthy adults who received alternating doses of cocoa flavanol capsules and placebo capsules for eight days. They received the doses at the same time in the morning, after collecting blood pressure, heart rate and pulse wave velocity, which they had been shown to do using a cuff and d a finger clip the first two days, then they entered the data on an iPod touch on their own. Researchers use pulse wave velocity to measure arterial stiffness.
Participants took these measurements every half hour for the first three hours after taking the capsule, then every hour for twelve hours throughout the day.
The results showed that cocoa flavanols were effective in lowering blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness. One of the concerns about using cocoa flavanols to lower blood pressure is the risk of blood pressure getting too low. However, in this study, researchers found that cocoa had less impact when blood pressure was lower, indicating that it is a potentially safe intervention.
The study confirms that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure and improve arterial stiffness. What is new is that it does this in the normal life of healthy people and only lowers it if it is ‘high’, even within the ‘normal range’. The study adds to growing evidence of the effectiveness of cocoa flavanols in improving cardiovascular health. However, the study authors noted some limitations and implications.
First, the study had a small sample size, the researchers did not take blood samples, and the influence of diet on the results was not assessed. They also note that the cocoa supplements also included methylxanthines, which may impact health. However, based on their research, they believe that the effects of the intervention were due to cocoa flavanols. The devices used in the study had to be activated manually, which limited the collection of some data and made it unlikely to implement this type of monitoring in daily life.
They also note that why cocoa flavanols improve components such as arterial stiffness is unclear, and further research could focus on this mechanism.
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