Research shows cocoa can help lower blood pressure
- About 116 million Americans have high blood pressuremany of which do not have it under control.
- New research shows cocoa consumption lowered blood pressure in healthy adults, offering implications for future treatments of hypertension.
- Although the results seem promising, eating more chocolate products is not a recommended strategy to help lower blood pressure.
- Instead, heart-healthy diets, such as the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, are advised for people with high blood pressure.
People with high blood pressure (hypertension) are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States.
“Hypertension affects almost every organ in the body,” says Dr. Michael Goyfman, chief of cardiology and director of echocardiography at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital in Queens, New York, told Healthline. “If left unchecked, it can lead to strokes, heart attacks and kidney damage, among other complications.”
Heart-healthy dietary protocols are often recommended for people with high blood pressure.
Now a new study Posted in Nutrition Frontiers shows that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa could help lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness, offering interesting implications for future treatments.
Flavanols – a subgroup of flavonoids – are a plant-based compound found in common foods and beverages like tea, blueberries, red wine and cocoa.
Cocoa is extracted from cocoa beans, the fatty seeds found on the Theobroma cacao tree. Rich in flavanols, cocoa is proposed to have a hypotensive effect.
In reality, preliminary studies showed that flavanol-rich cocoa and chocolate products cause a short-term reduction in blood pressure in healthy adults. Yet the long-term implications are not fully understood.
For the new study, researchers from the University of Surrey set out to find out whether cocoa flavanols reduce blood pressure in healthy adults without lowering it on days when it was already under control.
Over several days, the researchers gave 11 participants six capsules of cocoa flavanols (about 860 milligrams) or six placebo capsules containing brown sugar on alternate days.
Participants also received an upper arm blood pressure monitor and a finger clip measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) to assess arterial stiffness.
“High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, so it’s crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat these conditions,” said Christian Heiss, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Surrey. statement.
The participants’ blood pressure and PWV were measured before consuming the cocoa capsules and every 30 minutes thereafter for the first three hours, then every hour for the next 9 hours.
The study results note that systolic blood pressure was reduced by approximately 1.4 mmHg over 12 hours.
Effects were also detected 8 hours after cocoa consumption, a “second peak” which the researchers believe may be due to the way gut bacteria metabolize flavanols.
The researchers also noted that blood pressure and arterial stiffness were lowered in participants only when high and there was no effect when blood pressure was low in the morning.
According to a Press releasethe new research “reduces concerns that cocoa as a treatment for high blood pressure may pose health risks by lowering blood pressure when it is not elevated.”
This means that cocoa could potentially be used in clinical practice.
Yet, dr. Mehrdad Rezaeea cardiologist at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif., who was not involved in the study, noted that the new research had some limitations.
“Researchers haven’t tried this substance over a long period of time and in a clinically relevant situation,” Rezaee said. “So currently it remains a hypothesis that has been addressed in a very controlled environment.”
“Healthy people experience a range of blood pressures throughout the day,” Dr. Jill’s Grounds, a cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group. “Normal blood pressure is not a stagnant 120/80.”
According to Grounds, the discovery of a “smart” drug for high blood pressure is “big news.”
“If a ‘smart’ drug was created with a variable effect based on need – increasing the effect in high blood pressure and decreasing its effect in low blood pressure, that would certainly be a breakthrough,” Grounds said.
Despite these implications, Grounds emphasized that the magnitude of the effect seen in this study is not clinically meaningful.
“Most antihypertensive drugs reduce systolic blood pressure by at least 10-15 mmHg,” she said.
dr. Eric Stahlan expert in diagnostic cardiology and prevention at Staten Island University Hospital, said the study is “thought-provoking” but should be interpreted with caution.
“This small study in healthy volunteers demonstrated a minimal reduction in blood pressure within hours of ingesting 862 mg of cocoa flavanol,” Stahl said.
“Although it is interesting to consider the potential physiological effects of cocoa on blood pressure, more research is needed before it can be included in the treatment of hypertension.”
He also pointed out that the reduction observed by the participants was unlikely to have a significant clinical impact.
Stahl expressed concern that people with hypertension, diabetes and obesity would take the study as a recommendation to consume chocolate products that tend to be high in sugar and fat.
“I would like to see a more robust response in patients who have a diagnosis of hypertension,” Stahl said.
“For now, I still recommend the DASH and Mediterranean diets to my hypertensive patients.”
New research suggests that cocoa flavanols may safely lower blood pressure in healthy people, but more rigorous studies are still needed to determine whether cocoa products could help treat hypertension.
While some experts say the results could pave the way for new treatments, because the study was small, the results were not clinically meaningful.
Eating more chocolate, which is high in sugar and fat, is not recommended for people with high blood pressure and other chronic conditions.
Instead, experts recommend heart-healthy dietary protocols like the DASH and Mediterranean diets to help lower high blood pressure.