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How to Improve Your Cholesterol with Cocoa

A reader got unexpectedly good results from consuming cocoa flavanols. Might this practice improve your cholesterol as well?

We always enjoy learning about cocoa flavanols and how they can benefit our health. A few readers have reported on their personal experiments using cocoa flavanols to help with cholesterol control. Will they improve your cholesterol too?

Lowering LDL with Cacao Powder:

Q. For over two years, I struggled to get my LDL cholesterol down to 70 by taking atorvastatin (generic Lipitor). The best I could manage was around 90.

When I read that cocoa might help lower cholesterol, I began adding it to my breakfast drink. I used a heaping tablespoon of 100 percent natural cacao powder, unsweetened. When my LDL was checked two months later, it was 68.

Since then, three years ago now, my LDL has consistently been between 68 and 72. Of course, I am still taking the atorvastatin and thrilled to be keeping the LDL in check.

A. You’ve certainly had success using cocoa flavanols to improve your cholesterol. A recent review of randomized controlled trials found that cocoa consumption lowers total cholesterol and LDL (about 8 or 9 mg/dL, on average), as well as lowering blood pressure slightly (Nutrients, June 18, 2024).

Obviously, not everyone gets the same benefit that you have. Cocoa powder is low in fat and sugar, however, so it should provide the best benefit from cocoa polyphenols.

The Benefits of Chocolate and Cocoa:

Q. I started using CocoaVia after listening to a People’s Pharmacy radio show about the benefits of chocolate. I used it for six weeks before my annual physical.

I don’t know if the CocoaVia was the cause, but my HDL cholesterol had jumped from 58 to 78 and my LDL had dropped considerably. My doctor wrote “fantastic” on the lab report he sent me.

I am hoping someday to get off my blood pressure medicine, lisinopril, by losing weight, exercising more and continuing to take CocoaVia. Do the chocolate studies say anything about it lowering LDL and raising HDL?

How Cocoa Can Improve Your Cholesterol:

A. CocoaVia is a standardized high-flavanol cocoa. (The company provides underwriting support for our public radio show and podcast.) A review of ten studies found that cocoa products or flavanol-rich dark chocolate significantly lowered total and LDL cholesterol (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Aug., 2011).

A mouse study found that supplementing the animals’ diets with cocoa improved their cholesterol levels and reduced the amount of plaque in their aortas (Mediators of Inflammation, online Feb. 15, 2016). That is, after all, the primary goal of lowering cholesterol. It is a bit of a jump from mice to humans, however, so we wouldn’t take this alone to indicate cocoa could improve your cholesterol.

Your personal experience is consistent with the results of another study in which giving cocoa flavanols every day lowered blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while it raised good HDL cholesterol and improved blood vessel flexibility (British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2015).

Cocoa flavanols have also been shown to lower blood pressure, albeit modestly, keep platelets from clumping into unwanted blood clots and reduce inflammation (Journal of Clinical Hypertension, April, 2016). That is quite a bit of benefit from one dietary component.

Beyond Cholesterol:

Combining high-flavanol cocoa with a diet that is low in sugar and high in vegetables and fruits should help you achieve your health goals and, with your doctor’s consultation, get off your blood pressure medicine. You’ll find more information about controlling your blood pressure and keeping your cholesterol at a good level in our Guides to Blood Pressure Treatment and Cholesterol Control and Heart Health.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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Citations
  • Arisi TOP et al, "Effects of cocoa consumption on cardiometabolic risk markers: Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Nutrients, June 18, 2024. DOI: 10.3390/nu16121919
  • Tokede OA et al, "Effects of cocoa products/dark chocolate on serum lipids: a meta-analysis." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Aug., 2011. DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.64
  • Guan H et al, "Dietary cocoa powder improves hyperlipidemia and reduces atherosclerosis in apoE deficient mice through the inhibition of hepatic endoplasmic reticulum stress." Mediators of Inflammation, online Feb. 15, 2016. DOI: 10.1155/2016/1937572
  • Sansone R et al, "Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study." British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2015. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114515002822
  • Jumar A & Schmieder RE, "Cocoa flavanol cardiovascular effects beyond blood pressure reduction." British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2015. DOI: 10.1111/jch.12715
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