JUL 26, 2022 1:00 PM PDT

Cocoa Could Help Reduce Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

A new study found that cocoa can reduce blood pressure and stiff arteries, but only when both are elevated.

The cocoa plant has a long history, dating back to the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. They used cocoa to produce a bitter drink that only royalty could drink. Nowadays, cocoa plays a crucial role in chocolate, arguably one of the most popular sweets. But pure cocoa itself, when it isn’t filled with sugar and cream and all those other products, can have a lot of health benefits. Specifically, the flavanols in cocoa work as antioxidants, which can offer several protective benefits to the body. This includes offering blood pressure benefits.

The health benefits of cocoa in relation to blood pressure have been known for some time. However, much of our understanding about cocoa and blood pressure benefits come from highly experimental, controlled settings, not real life. A new study from a team of researchers at the University of Surrey sheds some light on the effects of cocoa in real life.

The study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, followed 11 people who were overall healthy. Participants took either a pill containing cocoa or one containing brown sugar (placebo) on alternating days. Participants monitored their own blood pressure and arterial stiffness by measuring pulse wave velocity. All participants measured blood pressure both before and at regular intervals after each pill they took. 

In general, researchers found that cocoa only had a beneficial impact on blood pressure and arterial stiffness in people who already had high blood pressure and arterial stiffness. For people who had low or normal blood pressure, there was no change or benefit.

The benefit of cocoa in this context could be an alternative to traditional blood pressure medications, which some fear may lower blood pressure too much on some days. The benefit of cocoa is that it only has a hypertensive effect when that effect is actually needed. Coupled with technologies like blood pressure monitors, doctors can develop personalized treatment plans to help patients take medications they need when it’s most appropriate. 

Sources: Eureka Alert!; Frontiers in Nutrition; Current Opinion in Pharmacology

About the Author
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Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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