The Cocoa Trials

It looks like chocolate may be the secret to stopping heart disease. 

Well, kind of. 

A new study has found that a key extract in cocoa significantly reduces the chances of dying from cardiovascular problems.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that consuming cocoa flavanols lowered the risk of cardiovascular death by 27 percent. The findings come from the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a randomized, placebo-controlled trial comparing the benefits of taking a cocoa flavanol supplement or a multivitamin over three and a half years.

Although neither pill significantly lowered the key factors of poor cardiovascular health, people taking cocoa flavanol supplements were 27 percent less likely to die from these events — such as a heart attack or stroke.

Study leader Howard Sesso said in a media release,

“When we look at the totality of evidence for both the primary and secondary cardiovascular endpoints in COSMOS, we see promising signals that a cocoa flavanol supplement may reduce important cardiovascular events, including death from cardiovascular disease. These findings merit further investigation to better understand the effects of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health.”

The authors quickly pointed out that their findings don’t mean people should make a mad dash to the store and start buying up all the chocolate. But, if you don’t have a sweet tooth, flavanols are also found in a host of other foods and beverages.

“COSMOS was not a chocolate trial — rather, it’s a rigorous trial of a cocoa extract supplement that contains levels of cocoa flavanols that a person could never realistically consume from chocolate without adding excessive calories, fat, and sugar to their diet. Previous studies have suggested health benefits of flavanols — compounds in several plant-based foods including cocoa, tea, grapes, and berries,” author JoAnn Manson specified.

Prior studies have found that cocoa flavanols also positively impact blood pressure levels. Some have even found a link to better brain health. However, researchers note these were generally short-term studies involving chocolate extract. 

On the other hand, COSMOS is the first study to look at the benefits of taking cocoa flavanol supplements on long-term cardiovascular health.

Over 21,000 people randomly took a daily capsule containing 500 mg of cocoa flavanols, a multivitamin tablet, both pills, or nothing for this study.

The results found three primary benefits of cocoa flavanol consumption. First, although cocoa flavanol supplements only lowered the risk of experiencing cardiovascular events by 10 percent, the extract cut the risk of dying from these heart problems by more than 25%.

Second, taking cocoa flavanol supplements regularly increased their impact on heart health. Participants sticking to a strict schedule of taking the supplements saw their overall heart disease risk drop by 15% and were 39% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

Third, the “composite endpoint,” or the measurable results of certain events, related to heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular deaths, all considerably decrease in severity among participants taking cocoa flavanols.

Meanwhile, taking a daily multivitamin did not significantly impact cardiovascular disease. Researchers say they did not see any safety issues from taking either cocoa flavanols or a multivitamin. The cocoa extract just performed better when it came to improving heart health.

“Although our study suggests intriguing signals for cardiovascular protection with cocoa flavanols, any health benefits due to taking these supplements will need confirmation in a future trial,” Manson says.

“Our message for consumers is to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in natural food sources of flavanols and to stay tuned as we further evaluate other important health outcomes in COSMOS,” Sesso concludes.

Again, this is NOT an invitation to eat candy bars. Rather, we see two key takeaways from this:

1. Flavanols are another natural compound that seem to have fantastic health benefits… and their found in all sorts of foods that would normally be included in a healthy diet.

2. Some compounds are difficult to get sufficient quantities of without a supplement, especially in our modern American culture!

We love seeing research like this!

Sources:

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ajcn/nqac055/6548186
https://www.livescience.com/52524-flavonoids.html
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/your-brain-on-chocolate-2017081612179

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