Cocoa Bean - Information and Alternative uses

Information and Alternative uses

How Healthy Is Dark Chocolate

"The beverage of the gods was Ambrosia; that of man is chocolate. Both increase the length of life in a prodigious manner."
- Louis Lewin, M.D., in phantastica

Organic Chemical Compounds in Cocoa Beans and Dark Chocolate

Many of the natural chemical compounds in cocoa or cacao beans and organic dark chocolate have been discussed in scientific literature as being pharmacologically significant to health. Here is a partial list of these active substances in natural chocolate (and more are discussed below).

  • Anandamide (a neurotransmitter known as "the bliss chemical")
  • Arginine (nature's aphrodisiac)
  • Dopamine (neurotransmitter)
  • Epicatechins (antioxidants)
  • Magnesium (for a healthy heart)
  • Serotonin (anti-stress neurotransmitter)
  • Tryptophan (anti-depressant amino acid)
  • phenylethylamine (pEA) (control the ability to focus attention and stay alert)
  • polyphenols (antioxidants)
  • Histamine
  • Tyramine
  • Salsolinol
Magnesium - the Mineral Your Heart Needs

Is dark chocolate good for your heart Research by Dr. Bernard Jensen indicates that the heart muscle requires these two minerals more than any other minerals: Magnesium and potassium. In the heart muscle Magnesium is concentrated eighteen times greater than in the bloodstream. When heart problems occur, Magnesium is the most likely mineral to be missing in the person's diet.

The overall strength and vigor of the heart muscle and its ability to pump effectively is enhanced by the presence of Magnesium, and this important mineral also decreases blood coagulation and thus can lower blood pressure.

Cocoa beans and organic dark chocolate are one of the best food sources of this heart-supporting mineral, Magnesium.

Anti-Depressant properties of Cocoa and Healthy Dark Chocolate

Cocoa Beans is a potent source of serotonin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine. These are three well-studied neurotransmitters which help alleviate depression and are associated with feelings of well-being. Cocoa contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO Inhibitors) which help improve our mood because they allow serotonin and dopamine to remain in the bloodstream longer without being broken down. Cocoa also contains anandamide which stimulates blissful feelings. Cocoa also contains B vitamins, which are associated with brain health.

Antioxidant properties of Cocoa and Healthy Dark Chocolate

Scientists have known for years that cocoa/cacao contains significant antioxidants, but no one knew just how rich they were in comparison to those found in two other healthy foods, red wine and green tea.

Recent research has demonstrated that the antioxidants found in cacao beans are highly stable and easily available to the human metabolism. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and keep them from damaging the DNA and mitochondria of the body's cells, which is a major cause of many degenerative diseases, cancer tumors, and premature aging.

One research study discovered that a substance in cocoa helps the body process nitric oxide (NO), which is a critical component in healthy blood flow and blood pressure control. Another study showed that a type of bioflavonoid called flavonols in cocoa prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries. Flavonols also make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots.

Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea. Their findings were published in an article entitled "Cocoa Has More phenolic phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine", published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication.

The Cornell researchers, led by Chang Y. Lee, chairman of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, state the reason that cocoa leads the other drinks is its high content of antioxidant compounds called phenolic phytochemicals, or flavonoids. They discovered 611 milligrams of the phenolic compound gallic acid equivalents (GAE) and 564 milligrams of the flavonoid epicatechin equivalents (ECE) in a single serving of cocoa. Examining a glass of red wine, the researchers found 340 milligrams of GAE and 163 milligrams of ECE. In a cup of green tea, they found 165 milligrams of GAE and 47 milligrams of ECE.

By comparison, 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate delivers as many antioxidants as five ounces of red wine.

According to research cited in The New York Times, fresh Cocoa Beans are super-rich in a type of flavonoid called flavonols wnich are strong antioxidants. Cocoa/cacao beans contain 10,000 milligrams (10 grams) per 100 grams of flavonol antioxidants - or an amazing 10% antioxidant concentration level!

That makes cocoa one of the richest sources of antioxidants in any food!

Compare the raw cocoa bean's 10,000 milligrams of flanonols per 100 grams to other forms of commercial chocolate...
processed cocoa powder (defatted and roasted cocoa beans treated with potassium carbonate) and chocolate candy range in flavonol content from the more common concentration of 500 milligrams of flavonols per 100 grams of normal chocolate bars, to a concentration of 5,000 milligrams of flanonols per 100 grams of Cocoapro cocoa powder from the Mars Corporation. Neither comes close to the high concentration of flavonol antioxidants in raw cocoa/cacao beans.

The current standard for testing and measuring the antioxidant effectiveness of various foods is called the ORAC Score. The higher the ORAC score, the higher the concentration of antioxidants present in the food. (Source: US Department of Agriculture / Journal of the American Chemical Society.)

Here is a comparison of the ORAC score per 100 grams for some common foods known to have a high antioxidant level, listed in descending order.

  • Dark Chocolate - ORAC 13,120
  • Milk Chocolate - ORAC 6,740
  • prunes - 5,770
  • Raisins - 2,830
  • Blueberries - 2,400
  • Blackberries - 2036
  • Kale - 1,770
  • Strawberries - 1540
  • Spinach - 1260
  • Raspberries - 1220
  • Brussel Sprouts - 980
  • plums - 949
  • Alfalfa Sprouts - 930
  • Broccoli - 890

This will be important new information for millions of children and teenagers who hate the taste of brussel sprouts or broccoli. Now they can advise Mom that dark chocolate is a much healthier alternate source of antioxidants!

Methylxanthines in Cocoa: Theobromine and Caffeine

Cocoa/cacao can substantially increase a person's energy level, since it contains two stimulating methylxanthines - a significant amount of theobromine and a small amount of caffeine.

Theobromine in Cocoa and Chocolate

Theobromine comprises between 1% and 2% of the cocoa bean. Its properties are: stimulating the central nervous system, relaxing smooth muscles, and dilating blood vessels. Compared to the other methylxanthine molecule, caffeine, the theobromine has about one-quarter the stimulating power.

Theobromine also acts as a mild diuretic (increases the rate of urination) and has been used as a medical drug in cases where a heart attack had resulted in too high an accumulation of body fluid. Theobromine is also a cardiac stimulant and has been used to treat high blood pressure.

One of the reasons why dogs should not eat cocoa or chocolate is because this food can cause cardiac arrest in dogs, since they simply lack the enzymes necessary to metabolize quantities of theobromine in excess of 100-150 mg per kilogram of the dog's body weight.

Caffeine in Cocoa and Chocolate

It generally agreed that cocoa and chocolate are poor sources of caffeine, though estimates of how much caffeine is present in cocoa may differ, depending on the source of the opinion. Various researchers have made the following estimates...

  • A cup of hot chocolate usually contains about 4 to 5 milligrams of caffeine, which is about 5% of the caffeine found in a cup of regular perked coffee. Some types of high-quality organic cocao powder which have the outer membrane removed will contain almost no caffeine, for most of the caffeine is found in this membrane (which is usually ground up with the whole bean to make a cheaper form of cocao powder).
  • A cup of coffee may contain 50 to 175 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of tea may contain 25 to 100 milligrams, and a cup of cocoa beverage may contain zero to 25 milligrams of caffeine.
  • A 1.4 ounce piece of chocolate (40 grams) contains about the same amount of caffeine as one cup of decaffeinated coffee.
  • 800 grams of milk chocolate (a lot of chocolate!) contains the equivalent amount of caffeine found in a cup of regular coffee.
  • A 50 gram piece of dark chocolate (the size of an average chocolate bar) will yield between 10 and 60 milligrams of caffeine; while an average 5-ounce cup of coffee can yield up to 175 milligrams of caffeine. (According to the Chocolate Information Center.)

An interesting experiment in the medical field of Homeopathy showed that a decoction of ground, roasted cocoa beans in boiling water produced an excitement of the nervous system similar to that caused by black coffee, and an excited state of circulation, demonstrated by an accelerated pulse. Yet when the same decoction was made with unroasted cocoa beans, neither effect was noticeable.

Can Chocolate Help You Be Happy

We have all heard how chocolate can be a "comfort food" to help us cope with stress and depression and general unhappiness. There might actually be some connection between chocolate and happiness, when we look at certain chemicals which are found naturally in the cocoa/cacao bean and which affect parts of the brain.

phenylethylamine (pEA) in Cocoa

pEA is a chemical found in cocoa/cacao beans which increases the activity of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in certain areas of the brain which control the ability to focus attention and stay alert. Elevated pEA levels occur naturally when we are captivated by a movie or good book, or wholly focused on a project or task - when we lose track of time and are not consciously unaware of what is happening around us.

pEA is found in higher levels in the brains of happy people. Chocolate has been found to contain up to 2.2 percent pEA (phenylethylamine).

Anandamide (The Bliss Chemical) in Cocoa

Anandamide (or n-arachidonoylethanolamine) is a neurotransmitter which has been isolated in cocoa in quantities which are significant enough to affect the brain. Anandamide is a cannabinoid naturally found in the human brain. Anandamide is a lipid (a fat) known as "the bliss chemical" because it is released when we are feeling good.

It is true that anandamine has a similar effect to the compound THC in cannabis (marijuana), but it acts in a different way; acts only on certain groups of brain cells and not the whole brain; and thus creates blissful feelings with much less intensity.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAO Inhibitors) in Cocoa/Cacao

These rare MAO inhibitors actually produce favorable results when consumed, by allowing more serotonin and other neurotransmitters such as anandamide, dopamine and others to circulate in the brain. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, MAO inhibitors facilitate anti-aging and rejuvenation.

MAO inhibitors make one feel younger when they allow more neurotransmitters to remain in the bloodstream. A primary phenomenon that differentiates children from adults is the level of neurotransmitters in the blood and bodies of children. In general, as one lives longer and longer the level of neurotransmitters decreases. This leads to less creativity, less joy, more physical rigidity - and more rapid aging!

Cocoa, with its supply of MAO inhibitors, helps keep plenty of neurotransmitters in circulation, and thus helps prevent this unhappy phenomenon from occurring. "Think young - you'll have more fun!"

Now that you have learned how cocoa contains pEA, Anandamine, and MAO Inhibitors, and learned about the happy effects these chemicals can produce, can you see how real chocolate might deserve to be called "the happiest food"

Chocolate Myths"Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine."
- Geronimo piperni Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

The peoples of Central American in the pre-Columbian era often spoke in metaphors composed of words or phrases which had a hidden meaning when uttered in sequence. This is common in many languages, including English. One of these ancient metaphors was yollotl, eztli, meaning "heart, blood," - a phrase which referred to cocoa. Chocolate is the heart's "blood" due to its magnesium, antioxidants, love chemicals and esoteric properties. Chocolate truly is "food for the heart".

Chocolate is a symbol of sensuality, pleasure, and sexuality. Some writers have claimed that 50 per cent of women actually prefer chocolate to sex! That percentage might even rise if the women were offerred real chocolate in the form of organic cocoa!

Chocolate is a favorite gift from a lover to the beloved one. Chocolates are always given as love offerings. A box of chocolates is one of the most popular gifts for Valentine's Day.

Cocoa, because it is natural and unadulterated, has an even stronger love energy than manufactured chocolate candy. In ancient Aztec wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom would exchange five cacao beans with each other.

Chocolate Misconceptions and MisinformationIs White Chocolate a Healthy Chocolate

White chocolate is not really a "chocolate". It is actually made from "cocoa butter", which is produced from the fat extracted from the bean. The health benefits of dark chocolate made from cocoa beans are NOT provided by white chocolate, and the antioxidants provided by dark chocolate are not able to be absorbed when dairy products are added to make milk chocolate. Thus you can only say that raw cocoa beans or dark chocolate with NO milk or dairy ingredients are the kind of healthy chocolate that is actually good for you. White chocolate and milk chocolate do not qualify as healthy chocolate.

Does Chocolate Contain Caffeine

Chocolate is actually a poor source of caffeine. A 50 gram piece of dark chocolate (the size of an average chocolate bar) will yield between 10 and 60 milligrams of caffeine; while an average 5-ounce cup of coffee can yield up to 175 milligrams of caffeine. Basically, dark chocolate contains about as much caffeine as a cup of DE-caffeinated coffee.

Does Chocolate Cause Migraine Headaches

Migraines have long been associated with chocolate consumption, particularly among women. One study of 490 persons with migraines found that 19 percent reported that chocolate precipitated their headaches. But other research has demonstrated no relationship between chocolate and headaches. Moffet, Swash and Scott studied a group of 25 migraine sufferers, giving them a chocolate sample one week and then a placebo (carob, which tastes like chocolate) two weeks later. The test subjects completed questionnaires regarding their reactions within 48 hours of consumption of the chocolate or carob sample. The subjects could not tell if they were eating chocolate or carob. There was no difference in headache occurrence after either sample. In a second study, the researchers repeated the same procedure with 15 of the 25 subjects and again found no difference in reported headaches after consuming either sample. Thus, as many reported headaches after eating chocolate as after NOT eating chocolate.

Does Chocolate Cause Acne

Research by the U.S. Naval Academy concluded that there is no evidence that chocolate causes or exacerbates (i.e. increases) acne. It is much more likely that the refined sugar added to chocolate candy is what increases the incidence of acne.

Does Chocolate Cause Allergies

A recent study showed that only one out of 500 people who believed they were allergic to chocolate actually tested positive for an allergy to chocolate. The concept that chocolate is a common allergen has existed for a long time, but recent evidence suggests allergy to real chocolate (cocoa) is actually quite rare. More often the person is in fact allergic to the milk and dairy products contained in many kinds of chocolate candy, such as "milk chocolate".

Cocoa Composition
Cocoa contains polyphenols, theobromine, phenylethylamine, anadamide, phenylalanine and tyrosine.

Cocoa and Alzheimer's

Cocoa may even help prevent amyloid beta protein inhibition which may be beneficial in Alzheimer's prevention.

Cocoa and Blood pressure
Eating dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure, boost normal responses to insulin to keep blood sugar levels down, and improve blood vessel function in patients with high blood pressure, according to new research findings. All of these effects would be expected to decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. The report in the July, 2005 journal Hypertension is just the most recent to link dark chocolate with beneficial health effects. In an earlier study, consumption of the bittersweet candy reduced blood pressure and increased insulin sensitivity in healthy subjects. Cocoa ingestion may help form more nitric oxide.

Cocoa and Heart Disease

A few squares of dark chocolate every day might cut the risk of serious heart disease by helping to stave off the hardening of arteries. Researchers from University Hospital in Zurich studied 20 male smokers, who are at greater risk of hardening arteries characteristic of coronary heart disease, to see the effects of dark and white chocolate on arterial blood flow. The subjects, who were asked to abstain from eating foods rich in antioxidants for 24 hours, were given 40 grams (2 ounces) of chocolate to eat. After two hours, ultrasound scans revealed that dark chocolate -- made up of 74 percent cocoa solids -- significantly improved the smoothness of arterial flow, whilst white chocolate, with four percent cocoa, had no effect.

Cocoa Lowers Risk of Disease

In a group of elderly men, those who consumed the most cocoa had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease or any cause compared to those who did not drink cocoa or eat cocoa-containing foods. Cocoa is known to lower blood pressure, though previous studies have disagreed about whether it staves off heart disease over the long-term particularly since it is contained in foods high in fat, sugar and calories. The new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that it was not lower blood pressure that corresponded to the finding of a lower overall risk of death -- although the biggest cocoa consumers did have lower blood pressure and fewer cases of fatal heart disease than non- cocoa users. Instead, the report credited antioxidants and flavonols found in cocoa with boosting the functioning of cells that line blood vessels and for lessening the risks from cholesterol and other compounds that can cause heart attacks, cancer and lung diseases. Flavonols are a class of healthy flavonoids that are found in many vegetables, green tea and red wine. The 15-year study of 470 elderly men aged 65 to 84 in Zutphen, the Netherlands, and published in February, 2006, found one-third did not eat any cocoa, while the median intake was 4 grams per day among the third who consumed the most cocoa. From 1985 to 2000, 314 of the men died, and the biggest cocoa eaters were at half the risk of dying compared to men who did not eat it.

Cocoa Availability

Cocoa is available in hot cocoa, cocoa tea, cocoa powder, and in chocolate bars. Try to find a chocolate bar that is at least 50% cocoa. There are some that are as high as 80% cocoa. Cocoa is now also available as a supplement in capsules.

Cocoa and Chocolate production

The first stage of chocolate production consists of a natural, seven-day microbial fermentation of the pulp surrounding beans of the cocoa tree. There is a microbial succession of a wide range of yeasts, lactic-acid, and acetic-acid bacteria during which high temperatures of up to 50 degrees C and microbial products, such as ethanol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, kill the beans and cause production of flavor precursors. Over-fermentation leads to a rise in bacilli and filamentous fungi that can cause off-flavors. The physiological roles of the predominant micro-organisms are now reasonably well understood and the crucial importance of a well-ordered microbial succession in cocoa aroma has been established. It has been possible to use a synthetic microbial cocktail inoculum of just 5 species, including members of the 3 principal groups, to mimic the natural fermentation process and yield good quality chocolate. Reduction of the amount of pectin by physical or mechanical means can also lead to an improved fermentation in reduced time and the juice can be used as a high-value byproduct. To improve the quality of the processed cocoa beans, more research is needed on pectinase production by yeasts, better depulping, fermenter design, and the use of starter cultures.
Cocoa Research Update

Chocolate and prevention of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review.
Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Jan 3;3:2.
Department of Epidemiology, Harvard University, School of public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Consumption of chocolate has been often hypothesized to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) due to chocolate's high levels of stearic acid and antioxidant flavonoids. However, debate still lingers regarding the true long term beneficial cardiovascular effects of chocolate overall. METHODS : We reviewed English-language MEDliNE publications from 1966 through January 2005 for experimental, observational, and clinical studies of relations between cocoa, cacao, chocolate, stearic acid, flavonoids (including flavonols, flavanols, catechins, epicatechins, and procynadins) and the risk of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke). RESulTS : The body of short-term randomized feeding trials suggests cocoa and chocolate may exert beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk via effects on lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammation, anti-platelet function, higher HDL, decreased LDL oxidation. Additionally, a large body of trials of stearic acid suggests it is indeed cholesterol-neutral. However, epidemiologic studies of serum and dietary stearic acid are inconclusive due to many methodologic limitations. Meanwhile, the large body of prospective studies of flavonoids suggests the flavonoid content of chocolate may reduce risk of cardiovascular mortality. Our updated meta-analysis indicates that intake of flavonoids may lower risk of CHD mortality comparing highest and lowest tertiles. CONCLUSION : Multiple lines of evidence from laboratory experiments and randomized trials suggest stearic acid may be neutral, while flavonoids are likely protective against CHD mortality. The highest priority now is to conduct larger randomized trials to definitively investigate the impact of chocolate consumption on long-term cardiovascular outcomes.

Acute consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa and the reversal of endothelial dysfunction in smokers.
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005 Oct 4;46(7):1276-83.
This study was designed to assess the effect of flavanol-rich food on the circulating pool of bioactive nitric oxide (NO) and endothelial dysfunction in smokers. Studies suggest that smoking-related vascular disease is caused by impaired NO synthesis and that diets rich in flavanols can increase bioactive nitric oxide in plasma. METHODS: In smokers (n = 11), the effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on circulating NO species in plasma (RXNO) measured by reductive gas-phase chemiluminescence and endothelial function as assessed by flow-mediated dilation (FMD) were characterized in a dose-finding study orally administering cocoa containing 88 to 370 mg flavanols and in a randomized double-blind crossover study using 100 ml cocoa drink with high (176 to 185 mg) or low (<11 mg) flavanol content on two separate days. In addition to cocoa drink, ascorbic acid and NO-synthase inhibitor L-NMMA (n = 4) were applied. CONCLUSIONS: The circulating pool of bioactive NO and endothelium-dependent vasodilation is acutely increased in smokers following the oral ingestion of a flavanol-rich cocoa drink. The increase in circulating NO pool may contribute to beneficial vascular health effects of flavanol-rich food.

Epicatechin and catechin in cocoa inhibit amyloid beta protein induced apoptosis.
J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Mar 9;53(5):1445-8. Heo HJ, Lee CY.
Department of Food Science and Technology, Cornell University, Geneva, New York
To elucidate additional health benefits of cocoa phytochemicals on the neurotoxicity induced by amyloid beta protein (Abeta), pC12 cells were treated with toxic peptide (Abeta(25)(-)(35)) and the effects of epicatechin, catechin, and cocoa were studied using 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) reduction, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, and trypan blue exclusion methods. Significant increase in neuronal cell death was observed on pC12 cells treated with Abeta(25)(-)(35) (25 microM), while epicatechin and catechin and their mixture prevented the Abeta-induced neuronal cell death. Abeta treatment also led to the increased membrane instability of pC12 cells. The membrane protective effects of the phenolics determined by LDH release and trypan blue exclusion assays demonstrated that epicatechin, catechin, and their mixture protect cellular membrane from Abeta-induced cytotoxicity. In these three different cell viability assays, the mixture of epicatechin and catechin showed the highest protective effect and synergistic activity. The present results showed that the major flavonoids of cocoa, epicatechin and catechin, protect pC12 cells from Abeta-induced neurotoxicity, and suggest that cocoa may have anti-neurodegenerative effect in addition to other known chemopreventive effects.
Influence of cocoa flavanols and procyanidins on free radical-induced human erythrocyte hemolysis.
Clin Dev Immunol. 2005 Mar;12(1):27-34.
Zhu QY, Schramm DD, Gross HB, Holt RR, Kim SH, Yamaguchi T, Kwik-Uribe CL, Keen CL.
Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, CA
Cocoa can be a rich source of antioxidants including the flavan-3-ols, epicatechin and catechin, and their oligomers (procyanidins). While these flavonoids have been reported to reduce the rate of free radical-induced erythrocyte hemolysis in experimental animal models, little is known about their effect on human erythrocyte hemolysis. The major objective of this work was to study the effect of a flavonoid-rich cocoa beverage on the resistance of human erythrocytes to oxidative stress. A second objective was to assess the effects of select purified cocoa flavonoids, epicatechin, catechin, the procyanidin Dimer B2 and one of its major metabolites, 3'-O-methyl epicatechin, on free radical-induced erythrocyte hemolysis in vitro. peripheral blood was obtained from 8 healthy subjects before and 1, 2, 4 and 8h after consuming a flavonoid-rich cocoa beverage that provided 0.25g/kg body weight (BW), 0.375 or 0.50g/kg BW of cocoa. plasma flavanol and dimer concentrations were determined for each subject. Erythrocyte hemolysis was evaluated using a controlled peroxidation reaction. Epicatechin, catechin, 3'-O-methyl epicatechin and (-)-epicatechin-(4beta > 8)-epicatechin (Dimer B2) were detected in the plasma within 1 h after the consumption of the beverage. The susceptibility of erythrocytes to hemolysis was reduced significantly following the consumption of the beverages. The duration of the lag time, which reflects the capacity of cells to buffer free radicals, was increased. Consistent with the above, the purified flavonoids, epicatechin, catechin, Dimer B2 and the metabolite 3'-O-methyl epicatechin, exhibited dose-dependent protection against AApH-induced erythrocyte hemolysis at concentrations ranging from 2.5 to 20 microM. Erythrocytes from subjects consuming flavonoid-rich cocoa show reduced susceptibility to free radical-induced hemolysis.

Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):611-4.
Numerous studies indicate that flavanols may exert significant vascular protection because of their antioxidant properties and increased nitric oxide bioavailability. In turn, nitric oxide bioavailability deeply influences insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and vascular tone. Thus, flavanols may also exert positive metabolic and pressor effects. OBJECTIVE: The objective was to compare the effects of either dark or white chocolate bars on blood pressure and glucose and insulin responses to an oral-glucose-tolerance test in healthy subjects. DESIGN: After a 7-d cocoa -free run-in phase, 15 healthy subjects were randomly assigned to receive for 15 d either 100 g dark chocolate bars, which contained approximately 500 mg polyphenols, or 90 g white chocolate bars, which presumably contained no polyphenols. Successively, subjects entered a further cocoa -free washout phase of 7 d and then were crossed over to the other condition. RESulTS: Although within normal values, systolic blood pressure was lower after dark than after white chocolate ingestion (107.5 +/- 8.6 compared with 113.9 +/- 8.4 mm Hg; p < 0.05). CONCLUSION: Dark, but not white, chocolate decreases blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity in healthy persons.

Cocoa polyphenols and inflammatory mediators.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1 Suppl):304S-312S.
Cocoa products are sources of flavan-3-ols, which have attracted interest regarding cardiovascular health. This review provides a survey of our research on the effects of cocoa polyphenols on leukotriene and nitric oxide (NO) metabolism and on myeloperoxidase-induced modification of LDL. Because intake of flavonoid-rich chocolate by human subjects was reported to decrease the plasma concentrations of proinflammatory cysteinyl leukotrienes, we assessed whether cocoa polyphenols inhibited human 5-lipoxygenase, the key enzyme of leukotriene synthesis. (-)-Epicatechin and other cocoa flavan-3-ols proved to be inhibitory at the enzyme level. This action may confer antileukotriene action in vivo. In a double-blind crossover study, 20 individuals at risk for cardiovascular diseases received cocoa beverages with high or low contents of flavan-3-ols. NO-dependent, flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery and concentrations of nitroso compounds in plasma were measured, and it was shown that ingestion of the high-flavanol coca drink but not the low-flavanol cocoa drink significantly increased plasma concentrations of nitroso compounds and flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery. Therefore, ingested flavonoids may reverse endothelial dysfunction through enhancement of NO bioactivity. Oxidative modification of LDL appears to be crucial for atherogenesis, and one of the mediators is the proinflammatory proatherogenic enzyme myeloperoxidase. Micromolar concentrations of (-)-epicatechin or other flavonoids were found to suppress lipid peroxidation in LDL induced by myeloperoxidase in the presence of physiologically relevant concentrations of nitrite, an NO metabolite. Adverse effects of NO metabolites, such as nitrite and peroxynitrite, were thus attenuated.

Methylxanthines are the psycho-pharmacologically active constituents of chocolate.
psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Nov;176(3-4):412-9.
Liking, cravings and addiction for chocolate ("chocoholism") are often explained through the presence of pharmacologically active compounds. However, mere "presence" does not guarantee psycho-activity. OBJECTIVES: Two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies measured the effects on cognitive performance and mood of the amounts of cocoa powder and methylxanthines found in a 50 g bar of dark chocolate. METHODS: In study 1, participants ( n=20) completed a test battery once before and twice after treatment administration. Treatments included 11.6 g cocoa powder and a caffeine and theobromine combination (19 and 250 mg, respectively). Study 2 ( n=22) comprised three post-treatment test batteries and investigated the effects of "milk" and "dark" chocolate levels of these methylxanthines. The test battery consisted of a long duration simple reaction time task, a rapid visual information processing task, and a mood questionnaire. RESulTS: Identical improvements on the mood construct "energetic arousal" and cognitive function were found for cocoa powder and the caffeine+theobromine combination versus placebo. In chocolate, both "milk chocolate" and "dark chocolate" methylxanthine doses improved cognitive function compared with "white chocolate". The effects of white chocolate did not differ significantly from those of water. CONCLUSIONS: A normal portion of chocolate exhibits psychopharmacological activity. The identical profile of effects exerted by cocoa powder and its methylxanthine constituents shows this activity to be confined to the combination of caffeine and theobromine. Methylxanthines may contribute to the popularity of chocolate; however, other attributes are probably much more important in determining chocolate's special appeal and in explaining related self-reports of chocolate cravings and "chocoholism".

polyphenols of cocoa: inhibition of mammalian 15-lipoxygenase.
Biol Chem. 2001 Dec;382(12):1687-96.
Some cocoas and chocolates are rich in (-)-epicatechin and its related oligomers, the procyanidins. Fractions of these compounds, isolated from the seeds of Theobroma cacao, caused dose-dependent inhibition of isolated rabbit 15-lipoxygenase-1 with the larger oligomers being more activeThese observations suggest general lipoxygenase-inhibitory potency of flavanols and procyanidins that may contribute to their putative beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system in man. Thus, they may provide a plausible explanation for recent literature reports indicating that procyanidins decrease the leukotriene/prostacyclin ratio in humans and human aortic endothelial cells.

Eating dark chocolate may have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system in healthy people.
Epidemiological studies suggest that high flavonoid intake found in cocoa confers a benefit on cardiovascular outcome. Researchers examined the effects of flavonoid-rich cocoa in dark chocolate on blood-vessel function in 17 young, healthy volunteers over a 3-hour period after they consumed 100 grams of a commercially available dark chocolate. The investigators saw that an artery in the arm dilated significantly more in response to an increase in bloodflow. Cocoa consumption also led to a significant 7-percent decrease in aortic stiffness. The predominant mechanism appears to be dilation of small and medium-sized peripheral arteries and arterioles. The team didn't detect any change in antioxidant levels, so they suggest other possible explanations. The dilatory effect of chocolate under resting conditions can be attributed to improved nitric oxide bioavailability, prostacyclin increase, direct effect of cocoa in smooth muscle cells, or activation of central mechanisms. SOURCE: American Journal of Hypertension, June 2005.

While a growing number of studies has shown a link between flavanol -rich cocoa and cardiovascular health, scientists have now substantiated a causal relationship between specific compounds present in cocoa and cardiovascular health. published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (pNAS)(1), this new study identifies the flavanol, (-) epicatechin, as one of the bioactive nutrients in cocoa that can improve the ability of blood vessels to relax. An international team of scientists from the University of Dusseldorf, Germany; the University of California, Davis; Mars, Incorporated; and Harvard Medical School conducted a series of studies examining the role of specific cocoa flavanols in cardiovascular health. In a randomized, double-blind, cross-over investigation, the researchers provided healthy male participants with a specially prepared cocoa drink that was either high or low in certain cocoa flavanols. Only the group consuming the flavanol-rich cocoa experienced increased blood vessel relaxation. The researchers demonstrated that the relaxation response mediated by cocoa flavanols is dependent on nitric oxide, a key signal released by the inner lining of blood vessels (the endothelium) essential for normal blood vessel function and healthy blood flow. Epicatechin, a nutrient that may be found in certain fruit and vegetables, green teas, red wine and purple grape juice, is especially abundant in certain cocoas. Mars, inc financially supported the study and provided the flavanol -rich cocoa (Cocoapro(R) cocoa powder) that was used throughout these investigations. Cocoapro (R) cocoa powder is used in Dove (R) Dark Chocolate, as well as in the new heart-healthy snack CocoaVia(TM).

Medications derived from a component of cocoa are still several years away despite studies suggesting it could help prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases in humans. The compounds, known as flavonoids, are found in chocolate and a host of other products including vegetables, green tea and red wine. A growing body of research has shown that flavonoids can help blood vessels work more efficiently, raising the possibility of treatments for a host of diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. But while pharmaceutical giants are beginning to notice the findings, the speculative nature of the research has left many companies reluctant to invest millions of dollars in the technology. For some time, raw cocoa has been widely recognized as a source of flavonoids, and in particular a class of flavonoids known as flavanols. privately held Mars has invested more than $10 million in studies to develop hundreds of compounds that copy the properties of cocoa flavanols. Americans eat more than 3 billion pounds of chocolate annually, or about 11 pounds per person. Most of the demand for cocoa is in the popular milk chocolate variety, but consumers' interest in dark chocolate has surged in recent years after research has shed light on the potential health benefits. A study recently released by Hollenberg found that Kuna Indians living on a chain of islands near panama consumed large quantities of flavanol-rich cocoa every day. The Kuna were less likely to die of heart disease and cancer than those living on the panama mainland. Whether cocoa is a factor in their longevity is difficult to say. Still, doctors and scientists have not made recommendations on cocoa consumption to their patients. Consumers should limit their intake of chocolate, which is high in fat, sugar and calories.

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