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Cocoa Extract

Health Benefits of Cocoa Extract

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Updated June 27, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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) 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) 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) 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).

Using Cocoa Extract for Health

More research needs to be conducted before cocoa extract can be recommended for disease prevention. 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.

Sources:

Baba S, Osakabe N, Kato Y, Natsume M, Yasuda A, Kido T, Fukuda K, Muto Y, Kondo K. "Continuous intake of polyphenolic compounds containing cocoa powder reduces LDL oxidative susceptibility and has beneficial effects on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in humans." Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 85(3):709-17.

Balzer J, Rassaf T, Heiss C, Kleinbongard P, Lauer T, Merx M, Heussen N, Gross HB, Keen CL, Schroeter H, Kelm M. "Sustained benefits in vascular function through flavanol-containing cocoa in medicated diabetic patients a double-masked, randomized, controlled trial." J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 3;51(22):2141-9.

Erdman JW Jr, Carson L, Kwik-Uribe C, Evans EM, Allen RR. "Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease." Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:284-7.

Mathur S, Devaraj S, Grundy SM, Jialal I. "Cocoa products decrease low density lipoprotein oxidative susceptibility but do not affect biomarkers of inflammation in humans." J Nutr. 2002 132(12):3663-7.

National Institutes of Health. "Researchers Ask, 'Is Chocolate Good for You?'". October 21, 2005.

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