New research reveals the benefits of cocoa

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Cocoa Prevents Heart Disease(NaturalHealth365) For lovers of dark chocolate, these are happy days indeed. Brand-new research has just revealed that cocoa – a key ingredient in chocolate – can help to prevent heart disease.

Many people may find this a bit surprising – but the act of digesting chocolate actually creates anti-inflammatory compounds in the body. In fact, data presented at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, is the most recent addition to existing research supporting the beneficial properties of chocolate.

When researchers at Louisiana State College of Agriculture set out to explore the mechanism by which chocolate promotes heart health, they discovered that beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract feed on polyphenols in the chocolate, fermenting them into heart-healthy anti-inflammatory compounds.

The polyphenols, specifically catechins and epicatechins, are difficult for the body to digest, but function as a perfect food for beneficial gut microbes such as Bifidobacterium. However, this latest discovery highlights only one of the ways in which consuming cocoa can improve your digestive heatlh and overall wellbeing.

The true power of dark chocolate gets revealed

Over the last decade, evidence of dark chocolate’s benefits has continued to accumulate. In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, cocoa has an antiplatelet effect – meaning it helps to reduce the stickiness of platelets, thereby cutting the risk of thrombosis.

Researchers believe that cocoa owes at least some of its health-promoting powers to its ability to activate and increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide – which has a relaxant effect on vascular smooth muscle cells.

Can cocoa lower LDL cholesterol levels?

Cocoa butter, found naturally in dark chocolate, is extremely rich in monounsaturated oleic and stearic acids. Researchers think these substances may be responsible for the results of a study in which hypertensive patients consumed flavonoid-rich dark chocolate every day for two weeks, then experienced a 12 percent decrease in harmful LDL cholesterol. See how easy it is to lower excess cholesterol – without the need for toxic drugs?

Theobromine, also found in cocoa, seems to help to reduce blood pressure. In addition, cocoa also contains high levels of flavonols, a type of polyphenol found in grape juice, wine and berries.

Are you still skeptical? (Wait until you read this)

In an article published in 2009 in the well-regarded and peer-reviewed journal Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, the authors credited cocoa in chocolate with beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance and platelet and vascular function, and reported that it prevents platelet adhesion and aggregation. In addition, they said that consuming cocoa helps to improve heart function and alleviate angina pectoris, promote digestion, and improve kidney and bowel function.

Good health never tasted so good. Citing a study in which patients with cardiovascular risk factors experienced increased vasodilation after consuming a flavonol-rich cocoa drink, the authors credited the epicatechins in cocoa with providing this beneficial vascular effect.

Important information for smokers and hypertensive patients

In yet another study, dark chocolate not only improved flow-mediated vasodilation in young smokers, but also boosted their antioxidant status, meaning that it gave their bodies more ability to scavenge destructive free radicals. Furthermore, it helped to delay the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, reduced reactive oxygen species, and inhibited the oxidation of DNA – all potent antioxidant effects that can help prevent the development of heart disease and cancer.

Can dark chocolate help to control blood pressure?

Perhaps most interesting of all, the authors of the Contemporary Review article reported that a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled studies confirmed that volunteers given dark chocolate experienced a reduction in blood pressure equal to that of pharmaceutical high blood pressure medications. Although they called for further placebo-controlled studies, the authors felt confident enough of cocoa’s health benefits to term it an “important mediator in heart health.”

How do I start using chocolate to promote heart health?

The answer, of course, is not to begin wolfing down candy bars; commercially processed, sugary chocolate has a high caloric load and could induce weight gain, diabetes and dental caries. Health benefits are highest when you use cocoa-based products with little or no sugar.

Keep in mind, milk chocolate does not provide the same benefits as dark chocolate, and white chocolate offers almost no benefits at all. Naturally, if you suffer with heart disease, talk to a knowledgeable doctor or nutritionist about the ideal amount of chocolate for you.

Generally speaking, the darker – and the richer in natural cocoa – the better. Some of the dark chocolate used in the studies contained as much as 74 percent cocoa.

And it seems as though dark chocolate need not be eaten in large amounts for benefits to accrue. In one study, it only took a small amount of dark chocolate – 6 grams, each evening – to significantly reduce both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of volunteers.

One final note. To get even more benefit from your chocolate, John Finley, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher, suggests taking prebiotics, which support the growth of beneficial stomach bacteria. In an article published in ScienceDaily, Finley noted that combining chocolate with solid fruits can also boost the healthful effects.

I don’t know about you – but I think it’s time for some chocolate-covered strawberries.

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