Tag Archives: flavanols

Can drinking cocoa protect your heart when you’re stressed?

Increased consumption of flavanols – a group of molecules occurring naturally in fruit and vegetables – could protect people from mental stress-induced cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart disease and thrombosis, according to new research.

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Researchers have discovered that blood vessels were able to function better during mental stress when people were given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink.

A thin membrane of cells lining the heart and blood vessels, when functioning efficiently the endothelium helps to reduce the risk of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, tumor growth, thrombosis, and severe viral infectious diseases. We know that mental stress can have a negative effect on blood vessel function.

A UK research team from the University of Birmingham examined the effects of cocoa flavanols on stress-induced changes on vascular function – publishing their findings in Nutrients.

Lead author, Dr. Catarina Rendeiro, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, explains: “We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes”.

“Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables. By utilizing the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress) we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods.”

In a randomized study, conducted by postgraduate student Rosalind Baynham, a group of healthy men drank a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 minutes before completing an eight-minute mental stress task.

The researchers measured forearm blood flow and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress and assessed functioning of the blood vessels up to 90 min post stress – discovering that blood vessel function was less impaired when the participants drank high-flavanol cocoa. The researchers also discovered that flavanols improve blood flow during stress.

Stress is highly prevalent in today’s society and has been linked with both psychological and physical health. Mental stress induces immediate increases in heart rate and blood pressure (BP) in healthy adults and also results in temporary impairments in the function of arteries even after the episode of stress has ceased.

Single episodes of stress have been shown to increase the risk of acute cardiovascular events and the impact of stress on the blood vessels has been suggested to contribute to these stress-induced cardiovascular events. Indeed, previous research by Dr Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-investigator on this study, has shown that people at risk for cardiovascular disease show poorer vascular responses to acute stress.

“Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols – particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea and unprocessed cocoa. This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress,” commented Dr. Rendeiro.

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Can Drinking Cocoa Make You Smarter? – Study

The answer to that question appears to be – Yes.

The brains of healthy adults recovered faster from a mild vascular challenge and performed better on complex tests if the participants consumed cocoa flavanols beforehand, researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports. In the study, 14 of 18 participants saw these improvements after ingesting the flavanols.

Previous studies have shown that eating foods rich in flavanols can benefit vascular function, but this is the first to find a positive effect on brain vascular function and cognitive performance in young healthy adults, said Catarina Rendeiro, a researcher and lecturer in nutritional sciences at the University of Birmingham who led the research with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychology professors Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton.

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“Flavanols are small molecules found in many fruits and vegetables, and cocoa, too,” Rendeiro said. “They give fruits and vegetables their bright colors, and they are known to benefit vascular function. We wanted to know whether flavanols also benefit the brain vasculature, and whether that could have a positive impact on cognitive function.”

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Nutrition and chocolate – Tufts

I am a big chocolate lover, both mildly dark and milk chocolate. As I eat some every day, the following from Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter interested me greatly.

chocolate with milted chocolate on white ceramic plate

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Q. You have suggested people eat chocolate to get the antioxidants and other “good stuff” that it contains. Do we get the same benefits if we eat chocolate in another form, such as chocolate milk, cake, or pudding?

A. Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist at Tufts’ Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, answers: “Cocoa contains phytochemicals called flavanols that may have health benefits, but just because a little might be good, that does not mean a lot is better! Flavanols are part of the reason cocoa is so bitter. To make chocolate candy, many of the flavanols are stripped away, and the cocoa is mixed with sugar. Turning that chocolate into brownies or pudding or other chocolate products further dilutes out the flavanols. Hence, there is unlikely to be much actual cocoa or cocoa flavanols in a serving of these foods. In a recently reported large study, chocolate-candy intake was associated with greater likelihood of weight gain in postmenopausal women. Whether the weight gain was directly due to the chocolate cannot be determined at this time.”

“If you enjoy chocolate, identify the type you enjoy the most and don’t overdo it. If it’s healthful flavanols you’re after, there’s no need to eat chocolate or cocoa at all. They are also found in tea, wine, and fruits like apples, grapes, and pears. And remember, an ounce of dark chocolate a day (or a dose of any other purported ‘superfood’) cannot take the place of a balanced, healthful dietary pattern.”

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