Chocolate lovers with elevated blood pressure are in for good news! Compounds naturally found in cocoa, known as flavanols, may provide a natural way to nudge down blood pressure, according to a recent Cochrane Library review.
When researchers analyzed data from a series of short-term trials involving 856 men and women who ate cocoa powder or dark chocolate (containing 30 to 1080 mg of flavanols in 3 to 4 g of chocolate) daily for time periods typically spanning from two to eight weeks, they found that, on average, blood pressure for cocoa eaters fell by 2 to 3 mm Hg when compared to a control group.
Benefits climbed even higher in one set of trials, with blood-pressure drops ranging from 3 to 4 mm Hg, where consumption of chocolate or cocoa powder was compared to consumption of products containing no flavanols.
How it works: It is believed that flavanols play a role in the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes and expands the walls of the blood vessels, thereby leading to smoother blood flow and lower blood pressure.
What’s tricky is that flavanol concentrations in cocoa and chocolate products can vary wildly depending on processing formulas and type of chocolate. As such, the remaining challenge is for researchers to establish what dosages of cocoa will be appropriate for attaining sought after blood-pressure-lowering effects and what dosages could be detrimental.
“Although we don’t yet have evidence for any sustained decrease in blood pressure,” said lead researcher Karin Ried, from Melbourne’s National Institute of Integrative Medicine, in a statement, “the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Longer research trials are needed, say researchers, to determine potential side effects when cocoa is taken regularly over the long-term.