Cocoa Science

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Cocoa Flavanols in the Body

A challenge in nutrition research has been the ability to understand the function of foods in the body once they are consumed. Through our expertise in chemistry, we are able to analyze, measure and synthesize cocoa flavanol compounds to conduct advanced nutrition research.

Absorption and Metabolism of Cocoa Flavanols
As cocoa flavanols are digested by the human body, they change chemically into what are known as metabolites. This is important because metabolites are the form in which cocoa flavanols are active within the human body. Understanding these metabolites helps researchers design better studies, which can shed more light on the mechanism of action responsible for the proven health benefits of cocoa flavanols.

Mars, Incorporated, in collaboration with University of California, Davis and Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf, published a series of four peer-reviewed papers* that together revealed for the first time what happens to cocoa flavanols after they are consumed and metabolized by the human body. This learning led to identification of the transformed products (metabolites) of cocoa flavanols and their movement within the body.

Nitric Oxide and Blood Vessels
A significant body of published research has shown that consumption of cocoa flavanols can maintain healthy blood vessel function, thereby helping to support the health and function of the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is an organ system consisting of primarily the blood vessels (arteries, veins, resistant vessels) and the heart that enables a healthy blood flow to transport nutrients (such as amino acids, glucose and electrolytes), oxygen, and carbon dioxide throughout the body.

The endothelium is the inner lining of the arterial blood vessels. An artery with healthy endothelium is able to dilate, or widen, when increased blood flow is needed. This process is known as flow-mediated dilation or FMD. FMD is dependent on the ability of the endothelium to release nitric oxide (NO), a compound produced by the body that causes the endothelium and the blood vessels to relax and contract to facilitate the healthy flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the body as needed. Endothelial dysfunction is associated with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, and often increases with age.

Studies conducted by Mars and its collaborators show that dietary consumption of cocoa flavanols play a role in the body’s production of nitric oxide, which is important to the health of the cardiovascular and circulatory system. Recent research on cocoa flavanols has narrowed the focus to (-)-epicatechin and its related molecules.