By Jill Brooke
Stop feeling guilty about eating chocolate since a new study from the University of Surrey shows that cocoa flavonols can lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness just like the best blood pressure medications.
“High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increase a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes, so it is crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat such conditions,” says Christian Heiss, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Surrey.
In the first study of its kind study, researchers set out to investigate the use of flavanols, a compound found in cocoa, in lowering blood pressure and arterial stiffness in individuals outside of clinical settings.
For several days, eleven healthy participants consumed, on alternating days, either six cocoa flavanol capsules or six placebo capsules containing brown sugar. Participants were provided with an upper arm blood pressure monitor and a finger clip measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) which gauges levels of arterial stiffness.
Measurements of blood pressure and PWV were taken prior to consumption of the capsules and every 30 minutes after ingestion for the first three hours, and then hourly for the remaining nine hours. Researchers found that blood pressure and arterial stiffness were only lowered in participants if it was high, and there was no effect when the blood pressure was low in the morning.
Significantly, effects were also, for the first time, identified at eight hours after cocoa was consumed. Researchers believe that this second peak may be due to how bacteria in the gut metabolize cocoa flavanols.
“The positive impact cocoa flavanols have on our cardiovascular system, in particular, blood vessel function and blood pressure, is undeniable,” says Dr. Heiss. “Doctors often fear that some blood pressure tablets can decrease the blood pressure too much on some days.”
However, as in anything, there is a yin-yang problem with new findings. Eating cocoa is best when you already have high blood pressure.
“What we have found indicates that cocoa flavanols only decrease blood pressure if it is elevated,” he adds.
As reporter Chris Melone noted, although previous experiments have only looked at cocoa’s beneficial impact on the heart under tightly controlled conditions, these revelations made it unclear as to whether cocoa also lowers blood pressure in already healthy people.
But the study will spark other studies since we already know how good chocolate or floral-inspired cakes makes us feel emotionally. And of course, chocolate that contains higher levels of cocoa is the best choice since we don’t want too much sugar and fat.
Furthermore, to be safe, always consult a doctor depending on your medical conditions but nice to know research is being done on chocolate. After all, is it the most popular treat in the world and, according to the World Cocoa Foundation, people around the world consume more than 3 million tons of cocoa a year. And as an added treat, perhaps put chocolates into flower arrangements too.