Cocoa’s leg up on healthy blood pressure

Us chocoholics have been thrilled by the avalanche of studies in recent years proving the health benefits of cocoa, the fundamental ingredient in our favorite treat.

In fact, there are a ton of maladies that may be resolved by adding chocolate to your daily diet.

Have anxiety? Eat some chocolate.

Need to reduce inflammation, balance your blood sugar, ease leg pain, suppress a cough, improve your vision or boost your energy? Grab a chocolate snack.

Want to keep your brain sharp, your skin supple and your liver healthy? Yep… chocolate.

Chocolate also helps protect your cardiovascular health. Studies show cocoa can lower elevated triglycerides and increase HDL, the “good” type of cholesterol. It can also lower your risk for heart disease and prevent atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition that raises your risk of stroke.

On top of all that, recent research has reinforced evidence of two more heart-protecting benefits of cocoa that kick in when they’re needed most….

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Cocoa’s impact on blood pressure and vessel flexibility

In the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of Surrey decided to examine the use of flavanols, a health-boosting compound found in cocoa, for lowering blood pressure and arterial stiffness in individuals outside of clinical settings.

Previous studies in this area have been conducted in conditions that were tightly controlled. But this time, researchers wanted to see if those previous results could safely translate into settings where people are going about their daily lives.

“High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increases a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes, so it is crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat such conditions,” says Christian Heiss, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Surrey.

For the study, healthy participants consumed either six cocoa flavanol capsules or six placebo capsules containing brown sugar for eight days. The capsules were taken on alternating days following several randomized patterns.

Participants also measured their blood pressure and pulse wave velocity (which measures arterial stiffness) with medical equipment supplied by the researchers…

  • once before consuming the capsules;
  • once every 30 minutes after ingestion for the first three hours;
  • and once hourly for nine hours after that.

Results showed that blood pressure and arterial stiffness were only lowered in participants when the measurements were elevated. There was no effect when blood pressure was low in the morning.

Previous research has found that cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness as much as some blood pressure medications. However, Heiss notes that doctors often worry that some blood pressure tablets can decrease blood pressure too much on some days and had the same concerns about cocoa.

“The positive impact cocoa flavanols have on our cardiovascular system, in particular, blood vessel function and blood pressure, is undeniable,” Heiss says. “What we have found indicates that cocoa flavanols only decrease blood pressure if it is elevated.”

In addition, effects were also identified for the first time at the eight-hour mark after cocoa was consumed — indicating a second peak researchers believe may be due to the way gut bacteria metabolize cocoa flavanols.

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Be selective with your chocolate consumption

It seems pretty clear that cocoa flavanols have a positive impact on our cardiovascular system. Judging from that, adding cocoa to our daily regimen appears to be a smart move.

However, it depends on how you consume the cocoa. Most commercially produced chocolate contains a relatively low percentage of cocoa. And some of the flavanols in that cocoa are often destroyed by certain steps in conventional cocoa processing like fermentation, drying, roasting and in some cases alkalization.

Because of this, you can never be sure how many flavanols are actually in that bar of chocolate or cup of cocoa. And given how much fat and sugar is in most chocolate brands, eating boxes of chocolate or drinking gallons of cocoa to get enough flavanols is a no-go.

So should you give up on chocolate as a health food? Not at all. Just seek out dark chocolate brands that contain at least 60 percent cocoa, undergo minimal processing and are low in fat and sugar. Or whip up a tasty hot beverage using cacao powder, which isn’t as processed as cocoa and contains more flavonoids.

Also, there are supplements that will give you a robust dose of cocoa flavanols. Before you buy, check the label to make sure the supplement hasn’t been alkalized.

Remember, if you currently take medication for blood pressure it’s not a good idea to stop. Always discuss treatment options with your physician.

Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!

Sources:

Cocoa shown to reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness in first real-life study — University of Surrey

Assessing Variability in Vascular Response to Cocoa With Personal Devices: A Series of Double-Blind Randomized Crossover n-of-1 Trials — Frontiers in Nutrition

Cocoa flavanols and chocolate — MARS Edge

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Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.