As part of the study -- partially sponsored by a Mars Inc. grant -- 15 healthy adults under the age of 50 and 19 healthy adults over the age of 50 drank a cocoa beverage every day for four to six days, and then scientists tracked the changes in function of their peripheral arteries. Blood vessel function in the subjects was found to have improved significantly, especially among the older patients, who are at an increased risk for age-related loss of vessel function.
"Aging is typically associated with deterioration in vessel health, specifically related to function of the critical inner lining, or endothelium," said study co-author Naomi Fisher, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Our findings demonstrate that consumption of this flavanol-rich cocoa can improve the function of blood vessels in a healthy elderly population.
"More research is needed to see if older adults with cardiovascular disease can also experience these improvements following consumption of this cocoa, but these initial findings certainly offer great promise."
Harold Schmitz, PhD, chief science officer at Mars Inc. agreed. "The body of evidence on blood flow-related benefits of cocoa flavanols is impressive," he said. "For the past 15 years, Mars researchers and scientists around the world have been studying cocoa flavanols. This latest research provides additional support for the concept that cocoa flavanols could help reduce the risk, or even offer future treatment potential, for cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke."
"These findings are great news for consumers," added Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and holistic nutritionist. "But what nobody seems to be mentioning is that cocoa is a rainforest herb, and as exciting as these health properties are for cocoa, there are countless more health miracles to be found in other rainforest herbs like Chanca Piedra, Sangre de Drago, Una de Gato and many many."
Hypertension experts Davide Grassi, Guido Grassi, and Claudio Ferri wrote an editorial to accompany the cocoa study -- published in the August issue of the Journal of Hypertension -- that noted cocoa could assist in cardiovascular prevention, but was quick to point out that flavanols were not a staple of the widely available chocolate candies found in the average grocery store.
"The flavanol-rich cocoa products used in experimental studies, and even present in some commercially available flavanol-rich chocolate bars that have been tested in controlled short-lasting studies, should not be confused with a number of commercially available snacks that contain many calories but are low in natural cocoa and flavanols," they said.
"If you really want the benefits documented here," added Mike Adams, "buy and eat raw cacao nibs. You can get them at any health food store or from online retailers like RawFood.com (Nature's First Law)."