February 27, 2006
Cocoa For Longer Life

Good news! Cocoa really does help you live longer.

A study of elderly Dutch men indicates that eating or drinking cocoa is associated with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death, according to an article in the February 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Cocoa has been linked to cardiovascular health benefits since at least the 18th century, but researchers are just beginning to collect scientific evidence for these claims, according to background information in the article. Cocoa is now known to contain chemicals called flavan-3-ols, which have been linked to lower blood pressure and improved function of the cells lining the blood vessels.

Brian Buijsse, M.Sc., National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, the Netherlands, and colleagues examined cocoa's relationship to cardiovascular health in 470 Dutch men aged 65 to 84 years. The men underwent physical examinations and were interviewed about their dietary intake when they enrolled in the study in 1985 and at follow-up visits in 1990 and 1995. The researchers then placed them into three groups based on their level of cocoa consumption. Information about their subsequent illnesses and deaths were obtained from hospital or government data.

Over the next 15 years, men who consumed cocoa regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. Over the course of the study, 314 men died, 152 due to cardiovascular diseases. Men in the group with the highest cocoa consumption were half as likely as the others to die from cardiovascular disease. Their risk remained lower even when considering other factors, such as weight, smoking habits, physical activity levels, calorie intake and alcohol consumption. The men who consumed more cocoa were also less likely to die of any cause.

Although blood pressure is usually linked with risk of cardiovascular death, that was not the case in this study. "The lower cardiovascular mortality risk associated with cocoa intake could not be attributed to the lower blood pressure observed with cocoa use," the authors write. "Our findings, therefore, suggest that the lower cardiovascular mortality risk related with cocoa intake is mediated by mechanisms other than lowering blood pressure." The benefits associated with flavan-3-ols may play a role.

Of course some people are determined to believe that nothing that you love could possibly be good for you. Cathy Ross, medical spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation, still discourages chocolate consumption.

"Cocoa is rarely tolerable in large amounts in its raw state and therefore to consume the suggested therapeutic amount you would have to have 100g of dark chocolate per day.

"This would mean an average intake of 500 calories per 100g and an average 30% of fat. Eating less did not produce the same effect.

"We are certainly not suggesting people never eat chocolate - everyone can enjoy a treat from time to time.

"But there are much better ways of improving your heart health."

If you are going to eat chocolate then the darker and the lower in sugar the better. I personally get semi-sweet cooking chocolate. I'd like to find some lower in sugar and cocoa butter. To keep the calories down as an alterrnative I've started eating cocoa powder straight on occasion. Might try it in apple sauce and eat it more regularly instead of dark chocolate.

Not all dark chocolates are the same. Processing removes some of the antioxidants. Mars dark chocolate has more of the antioxidants than the average chocolate. But I'm not clear on how big a difference there is between the various dark chocolates. I'd really like to find a cocoa powder that has the least amount of flavanoids and flavanols removed. Such a cocoa powder might be more bitter tasting though.

What I want to know: Does cocoa keep down blood pressure by increasing nitric acid synthesis? If so, it might just be a mild aphrodisiac as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 February 27 08:41 PM  Aging Diet Studies


Comments
nordic said at February 28, 2006 8:42 AM:

There was an article on chocolate about six months ago in the New York times that focused on the work MM/Mars has been doing researching the health benefits of chocolate. They spoke about possibly marketing a high flavanol cocoa. Also, they are getting ready to roll out their cocoavia (not sure if it is one or two words) bar nationally in the next few weeks. Mars has really gone after this health angle in a big way, they seem to think it has a lot of potential. I tried to get some funding from them for graduate research into a disease of cocoa plants a few years ago, but they weren't interested as they were focusing their dollar on health studies.

S. Cormack said at February 28, 2006 11:46 AM:

You can make your own sugar free chocolate using cocoa and Splenda sweetener. I've made the fudge recipe right off the can of Hershey's cocoa using Splenda before and it's virtually the same.

Patricia said at February 28, 2006 9:22 PM:

The new product Cocoa Via is supposedly full of the healthy flavenols, and not that high in calories. It is available in some stores and can be bought online.

Patricia said at February 28, 2006 9:22 PM:

The new product Cocoa Via is supposedly full of the healthy flavanols, and not that high in calories. It is available in some stores and can be bought online.

Veritas said at March 1, 2006 8:52 AM:

This is the usual "nutriceutical" or "functional food" marketing hype. Most of this research that is published from "impartial" university sources is heavily underwritten by the chocolate industry, and the researchers are seldom likely to displease their funding sources. In the U.S., most of the nutritional benefits studies are sponsored by either Nestle or M&M/Mars, often through funded chairs or other vehicles that do not reveal the cash flow -- I have colleagues who are involved in this. This is just more bad science misrepresented as responsible research selling calories that we don't need at pharmaceutical prices we shouldn't have to pay.

Nick said at March 1, 2006 10:36 AM:

Veritas,

What do you think of this specific study??

Randall Parker said at March 1, 2006 3:55 PM:

Veritas,

All the UC Davis cocoa research reports I've come across (and that's where I see the most cocoa research studies coming from) reveal that Mars funds their research.

Tom Wright said at March 1, 2006 5:37 PM:

Several European companies sell chocolate with cocoa-solid percentages up to 80%. The high percentage means less cocoa butter and sugar. I favor solids percentage around 65.

Kelly Parks said at March 1, 2006 6:51 PM:

You may be jumping to conclusions on the dark chocolate. All the study showed was that, for reasons unknown, cocoa consumption helps you live longer. I agree the obvious assumption is the flavonols in the chocolate and that since dark chocolate has more it would make sense to try to enhance the effect by eating dark chocolate.

But that is just an assumption. The study does not tell you why the cocoa worked.

Tj Green said at March 2, 2006 10:11 AM:

Perhaps it is more about doing things we enjoy,that is good for us. If we are happy and relaxed,then our cortisol levels are lower. Cortisol might be evolutions way of kick starting us in the morning,but it`s not much good for our immune system,and we are all aware of the part the immune system plays in the disease we call aging.

Nick said at March 2, 2006 1:38 PM:

Sadly, I tried the chocolate almond CocoaVia bar, and it wasn't very good.

apcx said at March 3, 2006 7:37 PM:

"You may be jumping to conclusions on the dark chocolate. All the study showed was that, for reasons unknown, cocoa consumption helps you live longer. I agree the obvious assumption is the flavonols in the chocolate and that since dark chocolate has more it would make sense to try to enhance the effect by eating dark chocolate.

But that is just an assumption. The study does not tell you why the cocoa worked."

Another CR-mimetic? Perhaps, it acts in a different way and may even be synergistic with CR or CR mimetics. We need more info on mechanisms and veracity.

As for me, I'm an cocoa-nut, and like the 65-70% bars(lindt and hershey's, no not special dark, they've another new bar).

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