As more and more studies reveal the heart-healthy benefits of cocoa extract, a growing number of purportedly good-for-you chocolate products are hitting the market. From cocoa supplements to fortified chocolate bars, these products claim to lower blood pressure, keep cholesterol in check, and improve overall heart health. Here’s a look at the science behind the supposed health benefits of cocoa extract.
1) Cocoa Extract and Cardiovascular Disease
Regular consumption of cocoa products containing flavanols (a class of compounds with antioxidant effects) may reduce risk of heart disease, according to a research review published in 2008. The review’s authors found that flavanol-containing products may produce positive changes in blood pressure, as well as improve function in platelets and the endothelium (a layer of cells lining the blood vessels).
Other research shows that regular consumption of cocoa extract may help protect against heart disease by decreasing oxidative stress (a destructive process that occurs when DNA-damaging free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to neutralize them).
2) Cocoa Extract and Cholesterol
Cocoa extract may help raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, suggests a 2007 study of 25 people with either normal cholesterol levels or mildly elevated cholesterol levels. For the study, researchers split participants into two groups: One group consumed 12 grams of sugar daily for 12 weeks, while the other group consumed 12 grams of sugar and 26 grams of cocoa powder daily for the same time period. Study results showed that those in the cocoa group had a significantly greater increase in HDL cholesterol, an effect known to reduce risk of heart disease.
3) Cocoa Extract and Diabetes
Following a flavanol-rich diet may help reverse blood vessel damage in people with diabetes, a small study published in 2008 shows. After 30 days of consuming flavanol-rich cocoa three times daily, a group of diabetes patients showed greater improvements in vascular function (compared to patients who weren’t assigned to treatment with cocoa).
Should You Use Cocoa Extract for Health Purposes?
More research needs to be conducted before cocoa extract can be recommended for disease prevention or for overall health. While eating dark chocolate in moderation may boost your intake of heart-healthy flavanols, it’s important to limit your consumption of chocolate products containing high amounts of fat and sugar. If you’re considering the use of supplements containing cocoa extract, make sure to consult your physician before beginning treatment.