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What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols?

Our underwriter, CocoaVia, offers high-potency cocoa flavanol supplements, now with a 15% discount on all its products.
What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols?
CocoaVia CardioHealth Powder with 500 mg cocoa compounds per serving

Do you think of chocolate as a sinful snack or a healthy bite? Chocolate candy itself probably should be considered sinful. It usually contains too much sugar to count as health food. The cocoa flavanols it contains, on the other hand, have surprising health benefits. While it is difficult to calculate the dose from a candy bar, it is easy to benefit from carefully calibrated quantities of these plant compounds. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about sugar or calories. Now through November 20, 2021, CocoaVia is offering a 15% discount on every product on their website, CocoaVia.com. All you need is the discount code for People’s Pharmacy visitors: PPCVSALE15

Kudos to CocoaVia, Maker of Cocoa Flavanol Products:

For about 20 years, scientists have been studying the impact of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health (Current Opinion in Lipidology, Feb. 2002).  One problem that was identified was consistency. As with other biological components, the amount of these antioxidant compounds varies from one batch of cacao pods to another. In addition, cocoa processing can reduce or damage cocoa flavanols. That helps explain the title of one early review: “Chocolate: A Heart-healthy Food? Show Me the Science!” (Nutrition Today, May-June 2002).

However, scientists have produced plenty of studies this century. Mars, International, has funded quite a bit of research on how to maintain high levels of cocoa flavanols in products. The products the company has developed, under the CocoaVia brand name, deliver consistent and reliable doses without the drawback of sugar or fat. We are delighted that CocoaVia is an underwriter for The People’s Pharmacy broadcasts and podcasts. What’s more, you should be, too. When you use the special discount code PPCVSALE15, you can take 15% off any product on the site: individual products, bulk purchases or subscriptions. The sale runs through November 20, with one use per customer.

What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols?

Cardiovascular Benefits:

People who consumed cocoa flavanols had better blood flow and lower blood pressure (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2017). People who ingest these products have more flexible arteries (Nutrients, March 8, 2019). Less arterial stiffness and better endothelial function could lower your chance of having a heart attack or developing heart disease (British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2015). People who take in these plant compounds every day appear to lower their risk of metabolic syndrome (Nutrients, March 30, 2019).

Cocoa Flavanols Fight Inflammation:

A review in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology (Dec. 12, 2013) considers how cocoa flavanols affect the human body. The authors are hard-core biochemists from Innsbruck Medical University in Austria. These researchers note that there are more than 380 compounds in cocoa, many of which are known to be powerful antioxidants with numerous pharmacological activities including:

  • Anti-inflammatory biochemistry
  • Anti platelet action (reducing the sticky part of blood to reduce the risk of blood clots)
  • Immune system modulation (enhancing cellular defense against viruses, bacteria and parasites)
  • Nitric oxide enhancement (improving blood vessel flexibility & lowering blood pressure)
  • Anti-oxidative effects (combatting atherosclerosis)
  • Neurotransmitter modulation (improving mood)

Preventing Stroke:

The benefits to blood vessels may also help prevent stroke as well as heart attacks.

According to a review article, cocoa flavanols reduce blood pressure and control insulin resistance (Stroke Jan. 2014):

“Cacao products, such as chocolate, are rich sources of flavonoids, which are potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds…A recent meta-analysis of 42 acute or short-term chronic (≤ 18 weeks) RCTs [randomized controlled trials] found that cocoa or chocolate interventions significantly reduced fasting insulin concentrations, insulin resistance and mean arterial pressure as well as improved endothelia function measured by FMD [flow mediated dilation, a measure of blood vessel flexibility]…Results from a meta-analysis of those 5 [prospective epidemiological] studies (4 from Europe and 1 from the United States) showed a significant 19% lower risk of stroke when comparing the highest with the lowest category of chocolate consumption and a significant 14% reduction in stroke risks for a 50-g/week increment in chocolate consumption…”

Resisting Wrinkles:

All of these health benefits are important, but it is entirely possible that some people will be even more intrigued by a recent 6-month study showing that women who took cocoa flavanols (320 mg/day) instead of placebo had more elastic skin and less visible wrinkles at the end of the trial (Journal of Nutrition, Jan. 2016).

Maintaining Cognitive Capacity:

Keeping the brain working properly is another goal that can be hard to achieve, so a study conducted in Italy with 90 older adults is quite promising. The volunteers were randomly assigned to get varying amounts of cocoa flavanols. They were tested at the beginning and end of the 8-week trial, and those who had received high-dose cocoa flavanols (993 mg/day) fared significantly better than those getting low-dose cocoa flavanols (48 mg/day). The research is consistent with previous findings (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March, 2015).

Other research shows that students ingesting cocoa flavanols performed better on certain cognitive tests (Psychopharmacology, May 2018). One group of scientists devised a clever way to test the effects of these compounds on brain oxygenation and on performance in high-demand situations (Scientific Reports, Nov. 24, 2020). Cocoa flavanols offered a significant boost to healthy young people under these conditions. In addition, a Spanish analysis of eleven trials found the same results (Nutrients, Nov. 30, 2020).

Where Do You Get Cocoa Flavanols?

Finding the best chocolate for pharmacological benefits is not easy. There is no standardized way of determining the flavanol content of cocoa or chocolate by reading most labels. That’s why we like what CocoaVia has done. The new products offer standardized doses of cocoa flavanols. The new CardioHealth products provide 500 mg of cocoa flavanols per serving, whether it’s powder or capsules. What’s more, the Memory + product offers 750 mg in a daily dose. That corresponds to the amount that proved effective in studies.

Don’t miss out: visit CocoaVia.com and use the discount code PPCVSALE15 when you check out to get a 15% discount on any product you fancy. This offer is good through November 20, 2021.

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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. .
Citations
  • Kris-Etherton PM & Keen CL, "Evidence that the antioxidant flavonoids in tea and cocoa are beneficial for cardiovascular health." Current Opinion in Lipidology, Feb. 2002.
  • Hannum SL et al, "Chocolate: A heart-healthy food? Show me the science!" Nutrition Today, May-June 2002.
  • Sansone R et al, "Methylxanthines enhance the effects of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular function: randomized, double-masked controlled studies." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2017. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.140046
  • De Bruyne T et al, "Dietary polyphenols targeting arterial stiffness: Interplay of contributing mechanisms and gut microbiome-related metabolism." Nutrients, March 8, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/nu11030578
  • 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: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114515002822
  • Jaramillo Flores ME, "Cocoa flavanols: Natural agents with attenuating effects on metabolic syndrome risk factors." Nutrients, March 30, 2019. DOI: 10.3390/nu11040751
  • Becker K et al, "Immunomodulatory properties of cacao extracts - potential consequences for medical applications." Frontiers in Pharmacology, Dec. 12, 2013. DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00154
  • Larsson SC, "Coffee, tea and cocoa and risk of stroke." Stroke, Jan. 2014. https://doi.org/10.1161/STROKEAHA.113.003131
  • Yoon HS et al, "Cocoa flavanol supplementation influences skin conditions of photo-aged women: A 24-week double-blind, randomized, controlled trial." Journal of Nutrition, Jan. 2016. DOI: 10.3945/jn.115.217711
  • Mastroiacovo D et al, "Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study--a randomized controlled trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March, 2015. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.092189
  • Karabay A et al, "The acute effects of cocoa flavanols on temporal and spatial attention." Psychopharmacology, May 2018. DOI: 10.1007/s00213-018-4861-4
  • Gratton G et al, "Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults." Scientific Reports, Nov. 24, 2020. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-76160-9
  • Martín MA et al, "Effect of cocoa and cocoa products on cognitive performance in young adults." Nutrients, Nov. 30, 2020. DOI: 10.3390/nu12123691
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