Cocoa has long been utilized for its potent anti-depressive and anti-oxidant properties but it is now being recognized for its powerful cardiovascular benefits.
Cocoa’s Heart Healthy Mechanism Identified
A number of previous studies have identified a role for cocoa to exert cardiovascular benefits, most notably via the food’s rich content of antioxidant polyphenols, consumption of which has been shown to boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure.
Japanese researchers recently examined the effects of cacao polyphenols such as (−)-epicatechin, (+)-catechin, and procyanidin B2 and C1 in human intestinal cells. The team discovered that the polyphenols increased apolipoprotein A1 (Apo-A1) levels, which the body utilizes to produce HDL cholesterol; while levels of alipoprotein B, the main alipoprotein responsible for carrying LDL cholesterol to cells, decreased. The researchers submit that the cocoa compounds increased the sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs), which are responsible for the regulation of genes involved in cholesterol biosynthesis and metabolism, “[elucidating] a novel mechanism by which HDL cholesterol levels become elevated with daily cocoa intake.”
Harvard Researchers Confirm Cocoa Rich in Health Benefits
In March of this year, a study conducted by Harvard University also showed the numerous health benefits of Cocoa. Researchers formally concluded that “Cocoa Consumption May Decrease Blood Pressure, Improve Cholesterol.”
Their analysis of 21 studies with 2,575 participants shows that cocoa consumption is associated with decreased blood pressure, improved blood vessel health, and improvement in cholesterol levels, among other benefits.
Eric L. Ding, PhD, of Harvard Medical School says the apparent health benefits come from polyphenolic flavonoids in cocoa that have the potential to prevent heart disease. Flavonoids are antioxidants that are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and coffee.
Cocoa Flavonoids Good for Cholesterol
In addition to decreasing blood pressure and improving blood vessel health, consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol among people under age 50, and increased good HDL cholesterol, the analysis showed.
Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption also was linked to reductions in risk factors for diabetes — a major risk factor itself for cardiovascular disease.
Also, resistance to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, favorably dropped among people who consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa, compared to people in comparison groups.
Further, consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa did not change triglyceride levels of study participants or make them obese. Triglycerides are a type of blood fat that have been linked to coronary artery disease when levels are elevated above normal.