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Cocoa May Cut Blood Pressure

Study Tracked Eating Habits of Elderly Men
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 27, 2006 -- Cocoa might help curb blood pressure and lower death risk, new research shows.

Brian Buijsse, MSc, and colleagues report the news in the Archives of Internal Medicine. They studied 470 elderly men for 15 years, tracking the men's cocoa consumption, including chocolate.

Cocoa intake was tied to lower blood pressure and reduced death risk, the study shows. Natural compounds in cocoa called flavanols may be the reason, write Buijsse and colleagues.

However, it's "much too early to conclude that cocoa foods are good for cardiovascular health," Buijsse tells WebMD in an email.

Buijsse works in the Netherlands' Center for Nutrition and Health, which is part of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

Tracking Cocoa Consumption

Participants were 65-84 years old when the study started in 1985. They were interviewed for an hour in their homes about the foods they ate.

Follow-up interviews were done five and 10 years later. All interviews were done in the presence of whoever prepared the men's foods, if the men didn't cook for themselves.

The researchers honed in on 24 foods that contain cocoa, including chocolate cookies, chocolate bars, chocolate pudding, and cocoa drinks. Then, they calculated those foods' cocoa content.

How Much Cocoa Did They Eat?

Here's a look at cocoa consumption in the study:

  • Average daily intake: 2.11 grams.
  • A third of the group didn't consume any cocoa when the study started.
  • Top cocoa consumption was more than 4 grams per day.
  • Most popular sources: Plain chocolate and chocolate bars.

Cocoa eaters were more likely to drink alcohol, eat nuts and seeds, and consume low- or medium-fat dairy foods, sugary confections, cookies, and savory foods.

The researchers didn't ask anyone to change their diets. Instead, they observed the men's cocoa consumption, blood pressure, and deaths.

Key Finding

"The key message is that our study suggests that using low amounts of cocoa foods on a daily basis, equal to about 10 grams of dark chocolate, may lower blood pressure and CVD [cardiovascular] death," Buijsse tells WebMD.

He calls for more studies, including some that directly test cocoa's health effects by assigning people to consume cocoa.

"Although there have been a few small intervention studies published, the amount of chocolate in these studies was huge -- in most cases 100 grams per day -- and the follow-up duration was quite short (a few weeks)," Buijsse says.

"These studies have clearly shown that cocoa lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function. Now it is time to study whether there is a 'threshold' in the dose of chocolate. So, intervention studies that use lower amounts of dark chocolate or cocoa drink with duration longer than a few weeks are interesting," he continues. Endothelial function is the working of blood vessels' inner lining.

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