Epidemiologic investigations support the hypothesis that regular consumption of flavonoid-containing foods can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). While flavonoids are ubiquitous in plants,cocoa can be particularly rich in a sub-class of flavonoids known as flavanols. A number of human dietary intervention trials with flavanol-containing cocoa products have demonstrated improvements in endothelial and platelet function, as well as blood pressure. These studies provide direct evidence for the potential cardiovascular benefits of flavanol-containing foods and help to substantiate the epidemiological data. In this review, results from selective published trials with cocoa and chocolate focused on risk for CVD will be discussed along with a study we recently completed evaluating theeffects of the daily consumption of flavanol-containing dark chocolate (CocoaVia?) with and without plant sterol esters on CVD markers in a normotensive population with mild hypercholesterolemia. In this study, the daily consumption of flavanol-containing dark chocolate was associated with a significant mean reduction of 5.8 mmHg in systolic blood pressure. Together the results of these human dietary intervention trials provide scientific evidence of the vascular effects of cocoa flavanolsand suggest that the regular consumption of cocoa products containing flavanols may reduce risk of CVD.
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