To the tantalizing delight of chocolate lovers everywhere, a number of recent studies, including one led by Xiaochen Lin, an Epidemiology doctoral student, have suggested that compounds in cocoa called flavanols could benefit cardiovascular health. Now a systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of cocoa consumption reveals some further pieces of supporting evidence.
The meta-analysis in the Journal of Nutrition, an assessment of the combined evidence from all 19 RCTs, focused on whether consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa products was associated with improvements in specific circulating biomarkers of cardiometabolic health as compared to consuming placebos with negligible cocoa flavanol content. In all, 1,139 volunteers were involved in these trials.
“Our meta-analysis of RCTs characterizes how cocoa flavanols affect cardiometabolic biomarkers, providing guidance in designing large, definitive prevention trials against diabetes and cardiovascular disease in future work,” said corresponding author Dr. Simin Liu, professor and director of the Center for Global Cardiometabolic Health at Brown University who worked with Lin as the lead author. “We found that cocoa flavanol intake may reduce dyslipidemia (elevated triglycerides), insulin resistance and systemic inflammation, which are all major subclinical risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases.”
Liu noted some limitations in the trials. All studies were small and of short duration, not all of the biomarkers tracked in these studies changed for the better, and none of the studies were designed to test directly whether cocoa flavanol consumption leads to reduced cases of heart attacks or type 2 diabetes.
Read more of David Orenstein's article about cocoa compounds.