McLEAN, VA (May 26, 2008) – Scientists have found that consuming cocoa flavanols – naturally occurring compounds in cocoa – may offer a benefit to those affected by type-2 diabetes.
Consuming a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage daily may have the potential to positively impact the blood vessel dysfunction associated with diabetes, suggests a first-of-its-kind study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by an international group of scientists. Study participants who regularly consumed a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage made using the Mars, Incorporated Cocoapro® process experienced a 30 percent improvement in measured vessel function at the completion of a 30-day trial.
Poor blood vessel function is recognized as an early stage in the development process of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. For more than 20 million Americans living with diabetes, these vascular impairments can eventually lead to heart disease and stroke, the cause of death for two-thirds of those who suffer from diabetes. Despite good diabetes control and medical treatment, adults with the disease often continue to experience vascular dysfunction. This has led scientists on a search for novel medical or nutritional options to improve the health and quality of life for people with diabetes.
“We are still seeing the devastating complications of diabetes with the standard medical treatments available, so we are increasingly looking to lifestyle changes and new approaches to help address risks associated with diabetes,” said Paul Zimmet, MD, PhD, Director of the International Diabetes Institute in Australia. “While more research is needed, this study shows tremendous potential for future flavanol-based applications.”
In this study, the impact of both immediate and regular consumption of a flavanol-rich cocoa drink on vascular function in diabetic adults was investigated. In the first part of this study, medically-treated adults with type 2 diabetes – a population known to have impaired blood vessel function, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease – drank a well-characterized and standardized cocoa beverage made using the Mars Cocoapro® process that contained different flavanol levels, ranging from 75 to 963 milligrams, and had their blood vessel function measured for several hours following consumption. The researchers found a positive correlation between the flavanol dose consumed and immediate improvements in FMD (flow mediated dilation, a measure of vessel health, i.e. the ability of a vessel to relax).
In a subsequent controlled 30-day, double-masked clinical trial, adults with established diabetes who were medically controlled, drank either a flavanol-containing cocoa beverage or a low-flavanol control three times a day. The cocoa beverages contained either 25 milligrams of cocoa flavanols (control) or 321 milligrams of cocoa flavanols (treatment) and were matched for calories, nutrients and other cocoa compounds such as theobromine and caffeine.
Beyond the immediate improvements in FMD following flavanol consumption, participants experienced sustained improvements in blood vessel function upon consuming the flavanol-containing cocoa over a period of 30 days (30 percent increase in FMD between day one and 30).“We were pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of impact of cocoa flavanols on vascular function in these diabetic adults,” said Mars, Incorporated Chief Science Officer Harold Schmitz, PhD. “If a dietary intervention with cocoa flavanols can produce such profound, sustained improvements in vascular function on-top of standard medication in a population with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, the implications with regard to health and quality of life could be remarkable.”
While this study is very promising, the researchers indicate that larger trials are necessary to fully demonstrate the clinical relevance of flavanol-rich foods in the context of cardiovascular health and disease.
The Body of Evidence
Contrary to statements often made in the popular media, the collective research demonstrates that the cardiovascular effects of cocoa flavanols are independent of general "antioxidant" effects that cocoa flavanols exhibit in a test tube, outside of the body. While research aimed at studying the potential role of cocoa flavanols in the context of blood vessel and circulatory function continues, a number of previously published studies already suggest that the consumption of cocoa flavanols can have important beneficial effects on the function of the body’s network of blood vessels. The body of research not only suggests that cocoa flavanols may provide a dietary approach to maintaining cardiovascular function and health, but also points at new possibilities for cocoa flavanol-based interventions for vascular complications associated with cognitive performance, skin health and age-related blood vessel dysfunction.
Future Cocoa Flavanol Research Directions
For more than 15 years, Mars, Incorporated has conducted and/or supported a significant portion of the research undertaken in the field of cocoa flavanols and reported new insights in peer-reviewed scientific literature. Working in collaboration with top research institutions around the world, Mars, Incorporated continues to lead the way in exploring the nutritional and medical potential of cocoa flavanols.
Mars’ commitment to rigorous scientific research of cocoa and flavanols is evidenced by more than 100 peer-reviewed research publications and more than 80 patents held by the company. Mars also developed and patented the breakthrough process called Cocoapro® that helps retain more of the naturally occurring flavanols in cocoa. The clinical cocoa powders made using the Mars Cocoapro® process are thoroughly characterized in terms of nutrient content, as well as standardized with respect to flavanol level and flavanol profile. Through the newly created Mars Botanical division, Mars will continue to develop and apply industry-leading analytical techniques and standards to further investigate the biomedical potential of cocoa flavanols. For more information on the many research studies on cocoa flavanols, visit www.healthycocoa.com.
A Global Commitment to Cocoa Sustainability
For decades, Mars, Incorporated has helped bring together the cocoa industry with leaders in related fields to create and fund beneficial research programs. Beyond research on the health potential of cocoa, Mars, Incorporated has demonstrated global efforts to bring the positive environmental and socioeconomic benefits of sustainably grown cocoa to farmers, their families and their communities. Programs include education and training for farmers, development of pest/disease resistant cocoa crops and other pioneering avenues for cocoa research. For more information visit www.cocoasustainability.mars.com.
Source: Balzer J, Rassaf T, Heiss C, Kleinbongard P, Lauer T, Merx M, Heussen N, Gross HB, Keen CL, Schroeter H, Kelm M. Sustained benefits in vascular function through flavanol-containing cocoa in medicated diabetic patients: A double-masked, randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2008;51:2141-2149.
About Mars, Incorporated
Mars, Incorporated, headquartered in McLean, Virginia is a family-owned company with a strong commitment to science-based research. With more than 15 years of research into the health effects of cocoa flavanols, and decades of research invested into improving the cocoa plant and farming techniques, Mars, Incorporated has become the global leader in cocoa research. For more information, visit www.cocoapro.com. For more information about the Mars, Incorporated cocoa sustainability program, visit www.cocoasustainability.mars.com.
About Mars Botanical
Mars Botanical, headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, is a newly-established division of Mars, Incorporated. The mission of Mars Botanical is to further develop leading edge science and technologies in the field of phytonutrients with the goal of creating new plant-derived products aimed at improving human health, and do so in a sustainable way that helps both farming communities and their local environment. Mars, Incorporated scientists and colleagues at leading research institutions are dedicated to unlocking the full nutritional and medical potential of cocoa flavanols. For more information, visit www.marsbotanical.com.
- Flavanol is spelled is with two a’s and one o. It is often confused with another compound spelled flavonol, which is not found in cocoa.
- When referencing heart, circulatory or cardiovascular benefits, refer to cocoa flavanols as compounds not as antioxidants.
- Contrary to repeated reports, the percent cacao or cocoa does not indicate cocoa flavanol content. Only careful handling of the cocoa can help to retain cocoa flavanol content.
- Additional references available to support the body of evidence on cocoa flavanols, upon request.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology