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Effects of dark chocolate and cocoa consumption on endothelial function and arterial stiffness in overweight adults

  • Sheila G. West (a1) (a2), Molly D. McIntyre (a1), Matthew J. Piotrowski (a1), Nathalie Poupin (a3), Debra L. Miller (a4), Amy G. Preston (a4), Paul Wagner (a1), Lisa F. Groves (a1) and Ann C. Skulas-Ray (a2)...

The consumption of cocoa and dark chocolate is associated with a lower risk of CVD, and improvements in endothelial function may mediate this relationship. Less is known about the effects of cocoa/chocolate on the augmentation index (AI), a measure of vascular stiffness and vascular tone in the peripheral arterioles. We enrolled thirty middle-aged, overweight adults in a randomised, placebo-controlled, 4-week, cross-over study. During the active treatment (cocoa) period, the participants consumed 37 g/d of dark chocolate and a sugar-free cocoa beverage (total cocoa = 22 g/d, total flavanols (TF) = 814 mg/d). Colour-matched controls included a low-flavanol chocolate bar and a cocoa-free beverage with no added sugar (TF = 3 mg/d). Treatments were matched for total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates and protein. The cocoa treatment significantly increased the basal diameter and peak diameter of the brachial artery by 6 % (+2 mm) and basal blood flow volume by 22 %. Substantial decreases in the AI, a measure of arterial stiffness, were observed in only women. Flow-mediated dilation and the reactive hyperaemia index remained unchanged. The consumption of cocoa had no effect on fasting blood measures, while the control treatment increased fasting insulin concentration and insulin resistance (P= 0·01). Fasting blood pressure (BP) remained unchanged, although the acute consumption of cocoa increased resting BP by 4 mmHg. In summary, the high-flavanol cocoa and dark chocolate treatment was associated with enhanced vasodilation in both conduit and resistance arteries and was accompanied by significant reductions in arterial stiffness in women.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Dr S. G. West, fax +1 814 863 7525, email
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