Chocolate and Cocoa Benefit from Heart Health Meta-Analysis

March 5, 2012

Researchers are interested in potential links to blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart disease risk factors.

A meta-analysis of trials on heart health and chocolate/cocoa is strengthening the case for consuming these food ingredients and their compounds.  

For years, clinical trials on cocoa flavanoids and consumption of cocoa products have suggested cardiovascular benefits, including on blood flow, blood pressure, and cholesterol. A new meta-analysis on 42 studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, provides added support to these theories.

Using data from studies on 18-weeks or less of chocolate, cocoa, or cocoa flavonoid consumption, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Norwich Medical School (United Kingdom) assessed the experiences of nearly 1300 participants.

Consumption of cocoa ingredients and compounds was associated with better insulin resistance and flow-mediated dilation (a key measurement of blood flow regulation), reduced diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure, and “marginally significant” effects on cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol dropped by a collective 0.07 mmol/L while HDL rose by a collective 0.03 mmol/L.

Some factors improved regardless of dosage, but other factors only reached significance at certain levels of dosage. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure appeared to improve when over 50 mg of the cocoa flavanoids epicatechin was administered daily.

“My take-away message would be that if people like dark chocolate, then eating a little in place of other 'treat' foods is fine, and may be beneficial,” said study author Lee Hooper in an interview with Reuters. “However, the evidence is not yet good enough to suggest that we should all be doing this.”

The research team stressed the need for larger and independently funded studies to confirm any potential heart benefits that could come from consuming chocolate, cocoa, and related compounds.