Cocoa flavanols may help lower blood pressure, according to a study. Cardiovascular health is essential for overall health and wellness. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, need to be addressed early to reduce the risk of further complications. Lifestyle choices may help keep your blood pressure from rising above healthy levels.
A recent real-world study showed that cocoa flavanols can reduce arterial stiffness and lower blood pressure in healthy adults, but only when blood pressure is high.
The health of the heart and blood vessels is essential for general well-being. The heart pumps blood throughout the body, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Researchers are constantly studying the factors that affect and improve cardiovascular health. One area of interest is how a component of cocoa, specifically cocoa flavanols, can affect blood pressure and the stiffness of arteries. A recent study found that cocoa flavanols can actually lower blood pressure in people with ideal blood pressure, but not when it was already low, and reduce arterial stiffness.
The study was published in Frontiers.
The importance of cardiovascular health
Cardiovascular disease is a general term for disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Certain risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease. For example, high blood pressure, excess cholesterol, and obesity can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Controlling these factors, including medications and lifestyle changes, can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of more serious health problems. However, the response plan will be different for each person. Healthy people can take specific steps to lower their chances of developing certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and is considered the ‘silent killer’ because there is no other way to know if you have it than to measure your blood pressure. But you can lower your blood pressure “by making lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy, staying active, and managing your weight to lower your risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack.”
Cocoa, blood pressure and arteries
The investigators of the current study note that previous controlled clinical intervention studies have demonstrated blood pressure lowering and arterial stiffness-reducing effects of cocoa flavanols (HRs) in healthy humans. However, because these studies were conducted in tightly controlled settings, the researchers wanted to see how this intervention worked in real-life settings. The researchers used a study design in which a small number of participants were exposed multiple times to the same intervention or placebo. They then compared the results for each individual, as well as between individuals.
The study involved eleven healthy adults who received alternating doses of cocoa flavanol capsules and placebo capsules for eight days. They received the doses at the same time in the morning, after taking their blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse wave velocity, which they had been shown to do with a cuff and finger clip for the first two days, then entered the data into an iPod touch on their own. Researchers use pulse wave velocity to measure arterial stiffness.
The participants took these measurements every half hour for the first three hours after taking the capsule, then every hour for twelve hours throughout the day.
The results showed that cocoa flavanols were effective in lowering blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness. One of the concerns about using cocoa flavanols to lower blood pressure is the risk of blood pressure going too low. However, in this study, the researchers found that cocoa had less of an impact when blood pressure was lower, indicating that it is a potentially safe intervention.
The study confirms that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure and improve arterial stiffness. What’s new is that it does this in normal life for healthy people and only lowers it if it’s ‘high’, even within the ‘normal range’. The study adds to growing evidence for the efficacy of cocoa flavanols in improving cardiovascular health. However, the study authors noted some limitations and implications.
First, the study had a small sample size, the researchers did not take blood samples, and the influence of diet on the results was not evaluated. They also point out that cocoa supplements also included methylxanthines, which can affect health. However, based on their research, they believe the effects of the intervention were due to the flavanols in cocoa. The devices used in the study had to be activated manually, which limited the collection of some data and made implementation of this type of monitoring in daily life unlikely.
They also note that it is not clear why cocoa flavanols improve components such as arterial stiffness and that further research could focus on this mechanism.
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