Cocoa flavanols: the next big thing?

Posted by Isobel Drake on 3rd June 2008

A report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that cocoa flavanols, which are naturally occurring plant compounds, may provide benefits to people with Type 2 Diabetes.

The study concluded that the daily consumption of a beverage rich in cocoa flavanols can positively impact blood vessel dysfunction. Study participants who regularly drank a beverage rich in cocoa flavanols, made using the Mars, Incorporated Cocoapro process, experienced a 30 per cent improvement in measured vessel function at the completion of a 30-day trial.

This is the first time a dietary intervention has been shown to lead to such dramatic improvements in vessel function in a diabetic population.

Poor blood vessel function develops in the early stages of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. These vascular impairments can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke, the cause of death for two-thirds of those who suffer from diabetes. But even adults who consistently manage the disease and who are medically treated often continue to experience vascular dysfunction.

This has led scientists to search for novel medical or nutritional options to improve the health and quality of life for people with diabetes. Fundamentally, healthy circulation helps support a healthy body.

The promising results of this research are significant with diabetes becoming a global health concern in the wake of the heavily publicised obesity epidemic. Additional research in the area may lead to the pursuit of flavanol-based applications that could delay the complications associated with poor blood vessel function and diabetes.

Mars Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz, PhD, believes the study could have very positive ramifications. “If a dietary intervention with cocoa flavanols can produce such profound, sustained improvements in vascular function; the implications with regard to health and quality of life could be remarkable,” he declared.

Found naturally in cocoa beans, cocoa flavanols are compounds similar to those found in red wine and green tea. Previously published studies have shown that the consumption of these flavanols can improve blood vessel function and even reduce the tendency of blood clots to form and the inclusion of cocoa flavanols in the diet may, therefore, have profound implications for cardiovascular health.

While traditional cocoa processing techniques often destroy cocoa flavanols, Mars claims it has developed and patented a process called Cocoapro that retains the benefits of these compounds. The beverage specially made for this study contains Cocoapro cocoa, but is not available on the market. The level of cocoa flavanols used in the study is not seen in the marketplace but products are available with a reduced level of cocoa flavanols than that used in this study. Consequently, a great opportunity now exists for food manufacturers to update their products in the wake of the study.

The research was carried out by a collaborative group of international scientists from the University Hospital RWTH in Aachen, Germany, the University of California and Mars, Incorporated.