Public Release: 

New study suggests special cocoa may lead to sustained improvement in blood vessel function

Daily consumption of a Mars Inc. cocoa drink may have the potential to positively influence blood vessel health

Weber Shandwick Worldwide

Drinking a specially-made cocoa beverage daily may have the potential to reverse impairments in the functioning of blood vessels, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. The cocoa used in the study was rich in flavanols, naturally-occurring compounds abundant in freshly harvested cocoa prior to their destruction during the typical processing and manufacture of cocoa and chocolate products.

These results suggest this flavanol-rich cocoa could have important implications for cardiovascular health since reduced endothelial function is recognized as an early stage in blood vessel diseases such as atherosclerosis. As noted in the paper, the magnitude of the blood vessel benefits to study participants after consuming this special flavanol-rich cocoa drink for a week was comparable to long-term drug therapy with statins. Previous studies have demonstrated acute or short term improvements in endothelial or blood vessel function after consuming this flavanol-rich cocoa, but this is the first study to suggest that these benefits may build and be sustained over several days - even to the point of apparent reversal of impairments in blood vessel function. While this study is very promising, the researchers do indicate that larger trials are necessary to demonstrate the clinical relevance of these flavanol-rich foods.

To study the impact of both immediate and sustained consumption of this well-studied flavanol-rich cocoa, researchers in Germany fed the cocoa to a group of male smokers - a population known to have impaired blood vessel function. In the first part of the study, participants drank specially made cocoa beverages that contained different flavanol levels - ranging from 28 to 918 milligrams. At each level, the optimal effect occurred after two hours. The drink containing 179 milligrams of cocoa flavanols resulted in a 50 percent improvement increase in blood vessel function in study participants. Each higher level also significantly increased endothelial function, with the highest level of 918 mg appearing to reverse impairments in blood vessel function to such an extent that it was restored to a performance level expected in a person with no known cardiovascular risk factors.

Contrary to statements often made in the popular media, the effect of this flavanol-rich cocoa on blood vessel function appears to be independent of any changes in established markers of oxidative stress or damage, suggesting that the potential blood vessel benefits of this cocoa are likely not attributable to a general "antioxidant" effect of cocoa flavanols.

In the seven-day feeding study designed to evaluate sustained benefits, the participants drank three doses of the cocoa drink each day for a total of 918 mg of flavanols daily. Researchers tested blood vessel function daily before the first morning dose of flavanols and two hours after the first dose. They found daily improvements in blood flow, with near reversal of impairment after consumption of the drink containing 306 mg of cocoa flavanols on day seven.

However, a week after the study ended and consumption of this cocoa stopped, endothelial function had returned to its lower level measured at the beginning of the study.

"This new research is the first to provide clear evidence suggesting that daily intake of this flavanol-rich cocoa could have a sustained benefit for circulatory health. This study also suggests that the effects of this flavanol-rich cocoa on blood vessels is independent of generalized 'antioxidant' actions often incorrectly reported in the media," said Harold Schmitz, PhD, Chief Science Officer at Mars, Incorporated, which has conducted and supported the vast majority of the research conducted on flavanol-rich cocoa reported in peer-reviewed scientific literature. "This study should give pause to those claiming that flavanols in cocoa act as antioxidants when describing their link to cardiovascular or circulatory health."

This is the latest study supported by Mars demonstrating potential blood vessel health benefits of this specially-made cocoa uncommonly rich in flavanols. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology named another study conducted by a collaborative group of researchers in Germany, the University of California, Davis and Mars examining the effects of this specific cocoa on blood vessel function to be one of the major advancements in cardiovascular research in 2005. (DeMaria AN et al. Highlights of the Year in JACC 2005. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2006; 47:184-202.)

Working in collaboration with top research institutions throughout the world, Mars, Incorporated continues to lead the way in exploring the full nutrition and medical potential of the flavanols that are naturally abundant in fresh cocoa prior to their destruction during typical handling and processing practices. For more than 15 years, Mars' commitment to breakthrough scientific research is evidenced by more than 100 peer-reviewed research publications on cocoa and more than 30 patents held by Mars scientists - numbers that dwarf the combined research efforts of all other companies in this promising area of health science. Scientists at Mars, Incorporated developed a patented process called Cocoapro® that helps retain more of the naturally occurring flavanols in cocoa. Cocoapro cocoa is the best understood and most studied cocoa in the world in terms of its potential effects on health. The cocoa in the flavanol-rich cocoa beverage in this study was prepared using the Cocoapro process to enable the higher and specific levels of cocoa flavanols necessary for high quality research. Mars products that are made with the Cocoapro process include Dove® Dark Chocolate and CocoaVia®, a new line of heart healthy snacks that are guaranteed to contain at least 100 mg of cocoa flavanols per serving. One of the newest CocoaVia products is a cocoa beverage, available in select stores. See www.cocoavia.com for store locations.

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For more information on the many research studies on cocoa flavanols, visit www.cocoapro.com.

Source: Heiss C, Finis D, Kleinbongard P, Hoffman A, Rassaf T, Kelm M, Sies H. Sustained increase in flow-mediated dilation after daily intake of high-flavanol cocoa drink over 1 week. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2007;49.

Mars, Incorporated is one of the world's top producers of chocolate, and has a strong commitment to health research. With well over 15 years of research into the health benefits 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 science. Mars uses patented and proprietary methods of processing cocoa beans to retain much of the naturally occurring flavanols, marking these products with the Cocoapro® seal, a hand holding a cocoa bean to signify the careful handling.

Editors' Notes:

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.

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