This post is written for chocolate lovers who need an excuse to eat dark chocolate. Research funded by Mars finds cocoa flavanols improved blood flow in heart disease patients at UC San Francisco.
A new study by UCSF cardiologists and researchers found that high concentrations of cocoa flavanols decrease blood pressure, improve the health of blood vessels and increase the number of circulating blood-vessel-forming cells in patients with heart disease. The findings indicate that foods rich in flavanols – such as cocoa products, tea, wine, and various fruits and vegetables – have a cardio-protective benefit for heart disease patients.
Findings will be published online July 5th and in the July 13, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).
One wonders whether most people who aren't currently suffering from known heart disease would benefit from the cardio-protective effects. My guess is that as you get older the odds rise that flavanols would benefit you. Anyone know how good the tests are at this point for measuring blood vessel health around the heart? Could test results point one in the direction of whether one should take steps to improve blood flow?
Cocoa is not the only source of flavanols.
Flavanols are phytonutrient compounds that are found naturally in apples, grapes, tea, cocoa and cherries, which account for the antioxidant effect provided by red wine and green tea. The study found a protective effect from a cocoa drink with 375 mg of flavanols, but according to researchers, a standard or recommended dosage has not yet been defined to achieve optimal health benefit.
For how to get the good stuff in food also see my previous post Flavonols In Cocoa Powder And Other Foods.
The flavanols appear to improve the process of angiogenesis (growth and repair of blood vessels by stem cells).
I worry a bit about the angiogenic effect of flavanols. Angiogenesis is essential for cancer growth. Tumor cells that haven't mutated to secrete angiogenesis compounds can't get the vascular growth they need to form bigger tissue masses. One can encourage too much vascular growth.
The UCSF team has shown for the first time that one of the possible mechanisms of flavanol's benefit is an increase in the circulation of so-called angiogenic cells in the blood. These cells, also known as early endothelial progenitor cells, are critical for the repair process after vascular injury, and perform function and maintenance roles in the endothelium. Endothelium is the thin layer of cells that line the interior wall of blood vessels.
A previous study in the Netherlands found a reduction in all cause mortality from cocoa consumption. It is not clear whether this finding would hold up in a larger scale trial.
While I write posts about the health benefits of individual foods I think one should try to improve one's diet in a general way rather than just focus on a few foods. Loren Cordain's Paleo Diet is worth considering if you want to eat a better diet. The general idea: eat foods that sustained pre-industrial cultures. Those are the foods we evolved to be adapted to. Also, read about which parts of the Mediterranean diet really matter. The devil's in the details. Even at the granularity of oil or olive oil the quality of the oil matters. See the discussion in the comments about phenolic compounds in types of olive oil and whole olives.
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