Hot off the presses: new research on the beneficial effects of cocoa on health!
In this latest support for cocoa, researchers looked at the effects of cocoa on mobility and quality of life in older adults. In addition, they evaluated the blood biomarkers associated with stress and inflammation.
The researchers aimed to determine whether a high-flavonoid cocoa supplement could improve plasma markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, physical performance, and frailty in middle-aged and older subjects. They conducted the research in two phases. Both phases of the experiments conducted used the gold-standard method of a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.
What’s all that mean?
The participants were randomly placed into different groups that received a different “treatment”. The treatment in this case was one of two types of cocoa supplement: one with a high flavonoid content and another with no flavonoid content. This is important because it means that the researchers had no control over which study participants received what treatment. To further restrict any bias from the experiment, it was also double-blinded, meaning that neither the participant nor the researcher knew which treatment group the participants were in. Theoretically, this prevented any unintentional bias from sneaking into their interactions with the participants.
Lastly, it was placebo-controlled. This means that some subjects didn’t get any treatment at all. This allowed the researchers to make true comparisons on the impact of the cocoa supplement.
Now that we’ve established that this study was the best type of study they could execute, let’s dive into it deeper.
The 134 participants ranged in age from 55 to 90 years old.
They lived in an urban district of Mexico City, Mexico. The participant had to drink a beverage once per day for 12 weeks. They either consumed a placebo beverage (skim milk with brown food coloring and chocolate flavoring but no actual chocolate), a cocoa powder beverage without flavonoids mixed with water (the flavonoids were removed through a process called alkalization), or a natural cocoa powder beverage containing 179 mg of flavonoids mixed with water. All three beverages were similar in nutrient content with the exception of flavonoid content.
So, what did the study find?
At the conclusion of the 12-week study, the flavonoid drinking group had:
- Improved cardiometabolic blood biomarkers:
- Significant weight loss that was greater than the other groups
- A significant improvement in LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) that was greater than the other groups
- Significant increase in HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) and significant decrease in triglycerides
- A significant decrease in glycemia (blood sugar) levels
- Significant decrease in oxidative stress markers (malondialdehyde and protein carbonyls
- Improved mobility measures:
- Significant decrease in the Up and Go test time (from a seated position in an armchair they rose, walked 3 m, turned around, and sat back down)
- Significant increase in skeletal muscle mass
- Improved quality of life
- Significant improvement in visual analog scale ratings that assess subjective attitudes or feelings about various quality of life factors
Obviously, they found a significant amount of beneficial effects in the flavonoid-drinking group, particularly in the cardiometabolic blood biomarkers!
While this study was specific to the middle-aged and elderly population, there are certainly insights that can be inferred from this research for all ages. The researchers suspect that many of the improvements displayed from the flavonoid supplement mimic the benefits of exercise, such as stimulating the production of mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of the cells) and increasing the function of organelles (which are critical to counteract the effects of aging).
Lastly, since flavonoids are potent antioxidants, they may interfere with the reactive oxidative species (ROS) that contribute to aging.
The subjects in the high flavonoid cocoa drink group were consuming 179 mg of flavonoids per day. Cocoa Elite’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder contains 400 mg of cocoa flavanols (the specific type of flavonoids found in cocoa) per 1 tablespoon serving! A standard cocoa product contains much less.
This is all good news for you!
You can access the complete study here: Latest Cocoa Study.
Andújar, M. C. et al. “Cocoa Polyphenols and Their Potential Benefits for Human Health,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2012, Article ID 906252, 23 pages, 2012.
Ashley Reaver is the founder of Ashley Reaver Nutrition, a private practice that offers nutritional services. She also created My Weekly Eats, a health/wellness blog-social media brand that focuses on easy, make-ahead recipes, and meal plans.
Ashley’s knowledge areas and counseling specialties include sports nutrition, weight loss, cooking classes, meal planning, and intuitive eating principles. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science from Cornell University. In addition, she completed her dietetic internship at California Polytechnic University. Afterwards, she earned her Master of Science in Nutrition Science and Policy from Tufts University.
Ashley is also a Certified Sports Specialist Dietitian.
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