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Cocoa May Cut Blood Pressure

Study Tracked Eating Habits of Elderly Men

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."

Remaining Questions

The Dutch study shows "evidence of protection, but we don't know how much chocolate produces how much protection, and whether a large amount of chocolate would produce even more protection. We just don't know," Hollenberg says.

Like Buijsse, Hollenberg mentions a need for interventional studies.

Such studies cost "easily tens of millions and commonly hundreds of millions of dollars, and they take years to do, and you can only do a limited number of them," Hollenberg says. "So we use evidence from observational studies of this sort to build our courage. And so we are still building our courage."

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