Editor's note: Consumers should not wait to use cocoa or whatever drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease. Instead, learn to know what the primary risk factors for the cardiovascular disease are and get rid of them before resorting to cocoa drink or flavanols supplements.
Is Cocoa a vitamin?
Cocoa is known to be rich in flavanols like epicatechin, which is believed to be the active ingredient for the health benefits associated with drinking the popular beverage.
Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School was cited as telling Chemistry & Industry that epicatechin is so important that it should be considered a vitamin, Marina Murphy reports in the magazine of the Society of Chemical Industry.
Much of Hollenberg's work focuses on the health benefits of cocoa drinking on the Kuna people in Panama. He found that the risk of 4 of the 5 most common diseases: stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes were 90 percent lower in the Kuna than other populations.
Hollenberg attributed this low risk to Kuna's habit of drinking cocoa. They can drink up to 40 cups a week of cocoa, which contains a large amount of flavanols like epicatechin.
'If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine,' Hollenberg was cited as saying.
"We all agree that penicillin and anesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the western world, how important does that make epicatechin?... I would say very important"
Daniel Fabricant, vice president scientific affairs at the Natural Products Association said "the link between high epicatechin consumption and a decreased risk of killer disease is so striking, it should be investigated further. It may be that these diseases are the result of epicatechin deficiency."
Epicatechin is also found in teas, wine, chocolate and some fruit and vegetables in addition to cocoa. According to Mars Inc., cocoa may lose significant amounts of flavanols during processing. Not all cocoa products may provide the same health benefits.
Earlier this month, German scientists published a study suggesting drinking special cocoa such as a Mars Inc cocoa drink improve blood vessel function by reversing impairments in the functioning of blood vessels.
The study funded by Mars, Inc. was published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology.
In the study, the scientists used a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols, naturally-occurring compounds which are abundant in freshly harvested cocoa, but may be destroyed during a typical processing and manufacture of cocoa and chocolate products.
The results suggest this flavanol-rich cocoa could protect against cardiovascular disease as it can significantly improve or repair the endothelial function, which is recognized as an early stage in blood vessel diseases such as atherosclerosis.
As reported in the research article, consuming this special flavanol-rich cocoa drink for a week rendered such a great benefit in the study participants that its effect was comparable to long-term drug therapy with statins.
The acute or short term improvement in endothelial or blood vessel function after consuming this flavanol-rich cocoa has been demonstrated in early studies. But this German study proved that the benefit could be retained for several days even to a point that impairments in blood vessel function were apparently reversed.
The scientists cautioned though that more studies are needed to confirm the clinical benefits of these flavanol-rich foods or beverage.
In the study, a group of male smokers were assigned the flavanol-rich cocoa drink at different doses ranging from 28 to 918 milligrams of flavanols. Smokers were enlisted because their blood vessels function is known to be impaired. The optimal effect was observed after two hours of cocoa consumption.
At the dose of 179 mg of cocoa flavanols, 50 percent improvement in blood vessel function was observed whereas at 918 mg, impairments in blood vessel function was apparently reversed to a level that was found in people without any cardiovascular risk factors.
The benefits of cocoa flavanols did not stem from the antioxidative properties of cocoa, according to the scientists. In other words, they did not change the markers of oxidative stress or damage by inflammatory agents.
In the seven-day feeding study designed to evaluate sustained benefits, the participants were assigned three doses of the cocoa drink each day for a total of 918 mg of flavanols daily.
Blood vessel function was tested daily before the first morning dose of flavanols and two hours after the first dose. The scientists found consumption of 306 mg of cocoa flavanols daily improved blood flow with near reversal of impairment as detected on day seven.
But the endothelial function improvement disappeared a week after the study ended and consumption of this cocoa stopped.
"This new research is the first to provide clear evidence suggesting that daily intake of this flavanol-rich cocoa could have a sustained benefit for circulatory health. This study also suggests that the effects of the flavanol-rich cocoa on blood vessels is independent of generalized 'antioxidant' actions often incorrectly reported in the media," said Harold Schmitz, PhD, Chief Science Officer at Mars, Incorporated.
"This study should give pause to those claiming that flavanols in cocoa act as antioxidants when describing their link to cardiovascular or circulatory health."
Chemistry & Industry http://www.chemind.org
Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology