Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle will soon begin the first large-scale study of its kind to look at whether the beneficial nutrients found in cocoa beans may help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Instead of candy bars, scientists will be handing out capsules containing 750 mg of cocoa flavanols daily to 18,000 participants (though some will receive a placebo) and keeping track of their heart health over a period of four years. Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient found abundantly in cocoa beans that have been shown to support cardiovascular health in several ways.
“In smaller trials [flavanols have] been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the cholesterol profile, improve sensitivity to insulin and also help the blood vessels to dilate,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s and one of the study’s lead researchers.
Cocoa Powder and Gut Bacteria: The Link to Heart Health
In a similar study, food scientists from Louisiana State University recently discovered the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts love chocolate just as much as we do—well, cocoa powder, to be exact.
When our gut microbes consume cocoa powder, they convert it into heart-healthy compounds that support a healthy inflammatory response, protect our blood vessels from stress, and promote healthy arteries. Cocoa powder contains high amounts of antioxidant polyphenols, known to support cardiovascular health and protect against disease.
In addition, by gobbling up the fiber found naturally in cocoa beans and breaking it down into beneficial short-chain fatty acids, gut bacteria help us feel full longer after eating—which in turn promotes healthy weight management.