One study found that cocoa only helps reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness when these factors are elevated, according to the University of Surrey.
The results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Cocoa flavanols were previously found to lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness as much as some blood pressure medications. However, how effective flavanols are in everyday life in lowering blood pressure remained unknown as previous studies in this area were conducted in strictly controlled experimental settings.
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Surrey’s new research dispels concerns that cocoa used to treat high blood pressure could pose health risks by lowering blood pressure when it’s not raising it, paving the way for potential use in clinical practice. Researchers set out to investigate the use of flavanols, a compound found in cocoa, to reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness in individuals outside of the clinical setting.
Christian Heiss, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “High blood pressure and stiff arteries increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, so it is crucial that we explore innovative ways to treat such conditions.
“Before we even consider introducing cocoa into clinical practice, we need to test whether the results previously reported in laboratory settings can be safely transferred to real-world settings where people go about their daily lives.”
Eleven healthy participants alternately consumed either six cocoa flavanol capsules or six brown sugar placebo capsules over several days. Participants were fitted with an upper arm sphygmomanometer and a finger clip that measures pulse wave velocity (PWV), which measures the degree of arterial stiffness.
Blood pressure and PWV measurements were taken before consuming the capsules and every 30 minutes after ingestion for the first three hours, and then every hour for the remaining nine hours. The researchers found that blood pressure and artery stiffness were reduced in the participants only when they were high, and there was no effect when blood pressure was low in the morning.
Remarkably, effects were also observed for the first time eight hours after consuming cocoa. Researchers think this second peak could be due to how bacteria in the gut metabolize cocoa flavanols.
Professor Heiss added: “The positive effect of cocoa flavanols on our cardiovascular system, especially blood vessel function and blood pressure, is undeniable. Doctors often worry that some blood pressure pills may lower blood pressure too much on some days.”
“What we found suggests that cocoa flavanols only lower blood pressure when it is elevated. Working with participants’ personal health technologies has shown us how blood pressure and arterial stiffness can vary from day to day and demonstrates the role of personal health monitors in the design and implementation of effective personalized care.”
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