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Cocoa May Cut Blood Pressure

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"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.

Stripped of Helpful Compounds?

"Of course, we need to test whether the cocoa flavanols are responsible," Buijsse says "A recently published study indeed indicates that they are. This needs to be confirmed."

His study tracked cocoa, not flavanols. That may be a weakness in the study, says Norman Hollenberg, MD, PhD, who recently published a different study on cocoa and blood pressure.

Hollenberg's study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the candy company Mars Inc., which is developing flavanol-rich cocoa products.

Cocoa is usually processed to remove bitterness. "Unfortunately, the bitterness is the flavanoids," Hollenberg tells WebMD. Flavanols are a type of flavanoid.

Researcher's View

"I am aware that during the production process of chocolate (especially alkalization and roasting of the cocoa beans), a part of the flavanols is broken down," Buijsse says. "This may be true to some extent, but commercially available cocoa foods still contain flavanols," he says.

"Although the flavanol content of commercially available cocoa foods is lower than that used in certain intervention studies, our results suggest that these foods may still exert an effect on cardiovascular health," Buijsse continues.

Even so, there's good reason not to go overboard with cocoa and chocolate.

"Chocolate contains loads of calories because of the sugar and fat in it," Buijsse writes. "If people eat a lot of chocolate, they inevitably gain weight. And having a high body weight is a major risk factor for high blood pressure and CVD."

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