On this episode of Lifespan News, Ryan O’Shea explains a study in which cocoa was shown to improve outcomes in cardiovascular disease.
More evidence has emerged for the heart health benefits of cocoa; it appears that cocoa may lower the risk of death by cardiovascular disease in aging adults.
Cocoa, chocolate’s main ingredient, is rich in flavanols such as epicatechin, which are known for their beneficial qualities, including a possible link to cardiovascular health. Other good flavanol sources include kale, tea, grapes and red wine, berries, tomatoes, and broccoli. The exact mechanism by which flavanols seem to improve cardiovascular health is unknown, but it may include boosting the production of nitric oxide, which is involved in vasodilation.
Scientists from Harvard University and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have recently published results from a trial that studied the effects of cocoa extract supplementation on cardiovascular diseases, the number one cause of age-related mortality in the world.
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial study was called COSMOS, COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, and it lasted over three years. It was sponsored by Mars Edge, a subsidiary of Mars, the company behind products such as M&Ms, Snickers, Twix, and Pedigree dog food. Mars Edge is the manufacturer of cocoa-based supplement CocoaVia, although the company was not involved in the study design or collection of data. It was conducted among over 21 thousand people over the age of 60 in the United States.
The participants, who had to be free of major cardiovascular diseases and cancer at baseline, were randomly assigned to take either a cocoa extract supplement with 500mg of flavanols, including 80mg of epicatechin per dose, or placebo. The researchers looked at the prevalence of a number of cardiovascular events including myocardial infarction, stroke, carotid artery disease, and more.
During the follow-up, cardiovascular events happened in 410 participants who were on cocoa extract, and in 456 of those who were on placebo. Although the second number is a bit bigger, the difference was not statistically significant. However, participants who took the supplement had a 27% reduced risk of cardiovascular death. This interesting finding might mean that cocoa extract reduces the severity of cardiovascular events, rather than their occurrence. One of the secondary endpoints was the prevalence of cancer, which was unaffected by the treatment.
The researchers controlled for various potentially relevant factors, such as age, sex, education, smoking status, diabetes status, cardiovascular health, and, of course, chocolate consumption since it could affect dosage.
No serious adverse effects were observed, although people taking the supplement were 6% more likely to self-report nausea. On the other hand, the cocoa extract group reported 5% fewer flu-like symptoms and 15% fewer migraines, which is quite substantial.
While cocoa extract has been shown to be good for cardiovascular health, this study is not an excuse to consume chocolate at will. In dark chocolate, the best source of non-fat cocoa solids apart from cocoa powder, flavanol contents can vary widely, and this data is not on the wrapper. In addition to the beneficial flavanols, chocolate is also packed with fat, sugar, and many other ingredients, which might be the reason why data on the health effects of chocolate has been largely inconclusive so far.
According to this study, cocoa extract, when consumed regularly, may decrease the severity of cardiovascular events and lead to less cardiovascular mortality in people over 60. These results can possibly be extrapolated to other flavanol-rich foods, though additional research is needed. When there’s more to share, we’ll have it for you here – so please subscribe so you don’t miss out! I’m Ryan O’Shea, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News!
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