Good news for chocolate lovers! New research shows that cocoa and other types of dark chocolate may help keep your blood pressure down and your heart healthy. Two recent studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, suggests that substances found in cocoa can stimulate the body's processing of nitric oxide, a compound critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure, and promote overall heart health. Nitric oxide plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure, and in turn, cardiovascular health. It is produced in the lining of the blood vessels and promotes heart health by opening up the arteries and maintaining good blood flow. According to researchers, the flavanols, a class of a group of naturally occurring substances called flavonoids found in cocoa and dark chocolate promotes more efficient use of nitric oxide by the body. The study was based on an earlier observation of indigenous people from the island of Kuna in Central America who rarely develop high blood pressure, and drink on average five cups of cocoa per day and include it in many of their recipes.
The observation purported that migration of the people from their native island to the mainland, increased their risk of high blood pressure, and it was not related to sodium intake or obesity. When researchers replicated the observation in the Boston-based study, feeding volunteers cocoa that either had a high or low amount of flavanols, those who drank the high-flavanol mix showed more nitric oxide activity. Researchers believe that if the results from any subsequent studies continue to support the link between the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa and nitric oxide synthesis, it could mean significant implications for public health. In other studies presented during the meeting, it was also shown that flavanol-rich cocoa and chocolate may work much like aspirin to promote healthy blood flow. Researchers at the University of California at Davis contrasted the effects of low-dose aspirin and a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage, and found that both had similar effects on preventing blood platelets from sticking together, which can harm blood flow. The research authors of this study believe that the platelet effects may be related to the nitric oxide benefits found in the latter study. So if chocolate is your comfort food of choice, go ahead, indulge yourself!