Science finds cocoa could protect the heart when stressed

High levels of mental stress can cause stroke, heart disease and thrombosis, but scientists have discovered a drink that could offer protection from these cardiovascular events – cocoa!

The high levels of flavanols in cocoa is believed to be responsible for the positive health effects, according to researchers from the University of Birmingham.

The findings suggest that blood vessels are able to function better during mental stress when people are given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink.

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Report author Dr Catarina Rendeiro explained that when functioning efficiently, the endothelium – a thin membrane of cells lining the heart and blood vessels – could help to reduce the risk of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, tumour growth, thrombosis and severe viral infectious diseases.

But mental stress could have a strong negative effect on this blood vessel function.

“We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes,” Dr Rendeiro said.

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“Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables. By utilising the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress), we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods.”

The study involved a group of healthy men drinking a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 minutes before completing an eight-minute mental stress task, while a different group was given a drink that was not enriched with flavanols.

The researchers measured forearm blood flow and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress and assessed functioning of the blood vessels up to 90 minutes post stress – discovering that blood vessel function was less impaired when the participants drank high-flavanol cocoa.

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The researchers also discovered that flavanols improve blood flow during stress.

“Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols – particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea and unprocessed cocoa,” Dr Rendeiro said.

“This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress.”

The flavanols in cocoa, which are also present in dark chocolate, provide many other health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, boosting brainpower and acting as a cough suppressant.

YourLifeChoices also reported on a study in 2020 that found drinking cocoa could help those who suffer pain when walking.

What do you drink when stressed? Are you a regular drinker of cocoa? What tips do you have for dealing with stress?

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Written by Ben