I know what you’re thinking - can an extract from the same beans that produce chocolate really provide compounding health benefits? Yes, yes it can. Cocoa extract refers to the bioactive compounds found within the cocoa plant, which includes powerful antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavanols, called procyanidins and epicatechins. Research has shown that these bioactive compounds can improve nitric oxide production, by dilating blood vessels increasing blood flow and oxygen transport. We’re going to discuss what the benefits of cocoa extract are how this powerful combination of plant compounds can improve your health.
What Is Cocoa Extract
Theobroma cacao trees have been cultivated for their beans for over 3,000 years in Central and South America, due to the medicinal properties and antioxidant activity. Cocoa is rich in polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids, specifically flavanols, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and vasodilating effects which can help reduce chronic disease and induce better oxygen and blood flow [R].
Cocoa contains around 380 bioactive compounds. In their natural state, cocoa beans are virtually inedible due to their high concentration of polyphenols which gives them an extremely bitter flavor. Cocoa is one of the richest sources of polyphenols, which have been associated with anti-inflammatory properties, improved blood flow, balanced blood sugar, and powerful antioxidant activity. However, in the final cocoa product, such as dark chocolate, polyphenol concentration may decrease from 100-10% throughout the manufacturing process [R].
Benefits Of Cocoa Extract
1. Cocoa May Benefit Heart Health
Extensive research has shown that cocoa has a profound impact on cardiovascular health. In 2009 a study in Stockholm, Sweden assessed cardiac mortality in a high-risk group hospitalized for myocardial infarction. After an average of 8.6 years of follow-up patients who reported eating chocolate twice or more per week were 66% less likely to suffer a cardiac death compared to those who reported never eating chocolate. Other observational studies have shown reduced risks of stroke with chocolate consumption [R]. This is largely attributed to the flavonoids, which enhances blood flow through an increase in nitric oxide production.
A cross-sectional analysis of data from 2217 participants in the NHLBI Family Heart Study identified an inverse relationship between chocolate consumption and calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries [R]. Individuals who ate chocolate two or more times per week, were 32% more likely to prevent coronary artery calcification compared with those who never ate chocolate.
2. Cocoa May Improve Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by intestinal inflammation and hyperpermeability of the gut. Various studies have provided evidence that pure polyphenol extracts can modulate intestinal inflammation.
A study conducted at The University of Valencia in Spain, investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa extract on IBD. The extract was shown to reduce weight loss, improve normal stool consistency, and reduce visible DNA of stool samples, in an animal induced model of ulcerative colitis [R].
3. Cocoa May Effect Insulin Resistance
Eating dark chocolate or supplementing cocoa extract is linked to improved insulin resistance by reducing oxidative stress. When epicatechins is absorbed by the body, it activates an insulin signaling pathway, which causes a mild increase in glucose uptake. Increased glucose uptake helps the body uptake sugar from the blood more effectively [R]
4. Cocoa May Improve Mood State And Symptoms Of Depression
Studies have suggested that cocoa may have positive effects on mood and improve symptoms of depression. Proposed mechanisms have postulated that the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, it’s caffeine content or placebo effect induced by eating chocolate may all have positive effects on mood state [R]. Other studies have shown that highly concentrated polyphenol cocoa improves calmness and contentment [R].
Everything in moderation. Of course, too much chocolate, can have effects on weight, obesity and cause increased risks of chronic disease. However, eating 26-40g of dark chocolate products, containing at least 75% cocoa can induce positive health benefits, promoting circulation, and effectively improving energy production.
Cocoa Benefits: Takeaway
Eating dark chocolate with greater than 70% cocoa, can maximize health benefits such as heart and brain health, stabilize insulin levels, and improve mood state. Studies have shown that the bioactive compounds of cocoa contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which have been linked to improved blood flow and oxygenation, reducing chronic disease states. Chocolate, however, still contains significant amounts of sugar and fat, therefore, everything in moderation.
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