It wouldn't be so bad taking medicine if that medicine were chocolate, now would it?
A total of 18,000 adults in Boston and Seattle get to test that idea out. They will be taking chocolate capsules in a study to see if the bioactive chemicals in cocoa beans, known as cocoa flavanols, improve their cardiovascular health.
Studies done over the last decade or so have detailed the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, including lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels.
Each participant in the current study, undertaken by Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, will take two flavorless capsules a day containing 750 milligrams of cocoa flavanols (or dummy pills for those in the control group) for four years. Over that time period, participants' heart health will be monitored to determine if the mega-dose of cocoa does what previous, smaller studies have indicated. (To ingest the same amount of cocoa flavanols would require eating almost five bars of dark chocolate a day.)
It will be the largest research trial to date that will investigate the heart health benefits of flavanols and another cocoa chemical called procyanidins. The study will evaluate the role of flavanols in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease.
Cocoa is thought to benefit heart health by acting as a vasodilator, meaning it triggers the relaxation of muscle cells within blood vessel walls. Relaxed blood vessels widen, resulting in greater blood flow and decreased blood pressure.
The research is being funded by chocolate candy maker Mars Inc. and the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Mars (M&Ms, Snickers) has funded cocoa flavanol research since the 1990s, and much of what we know about the possible benefits of cocoa has emerged from Mars-supported studies. In addition to financial support, Mars is providing the cocoa flavanol-containing test product for the study.
"This collaboration represents the best of a public-private partnership in the interest of advancing science and public health. It's exciting to be at this turning point in scientific discovery where we have the potential to achieve benefits for some of our most significant health challenges today," said Harold Schmitz, Ph.D, Chief Science Officer at Mars.
The study will last five years.
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The company currently sells a line of products based on earlier research, called CocoaVia, including 250-mg cocoa-extract capsules.
It's not as fun as eating a candy bar, but we must admit that we love the idea of popping chocolate pills.