New Research Suggests Potential Link Between Eating Flavanol-Rich Chocolate and Improved Blood Vessel Function

Findings Presented at American Heart Association Scientific Sessions Provide Further Indications that Certain Chocolates May Support Heart Health

CHICAGO, Nov. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- New research presented today during one of eleven special sessions sponsored by the Scientific Councils of the American Heart Association suggests a potential link between cocoa flavanols contained in certain chocolates and improved blood vessel function. Blood vessel function is believed to be an important indicator of cardiovascular health, much like cholesterol levels or blood pressure.

Reported at a session entitled "Chocolate and Wine for the Heart? The Science Behind Dietary Flavanols and Cardiovascular Health," the new research reinforces previous research results suggesting that cardiovascular health may be positively affected by intake of naturally occurring dietary flavanols in certain chocolates and cocoas. The independently funded study, presented by co-investigator Marguerite M. Engler, Ph.D., R.N., M.S., F.A.H.A., professor and vice chair of the Department of Physiological Nursing, University of California at San Francisco, compared the effects of consuming a commercially available flavanol-rich dark chocolate bar (DOVE(R) Dark Chocolate, Mars, Incorporated) to the effects of consuming a flavanol-poor dark chocolate product on blood vessel function.

Twenty-one healthy subjects consumed 46 grams of either the flavanol-rich (259 mg of chocolate flavanols) or a flavanol-poor chocolate product each day for two weeks in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Researchers measured the level of flavanols in participants' blood, and found that the chocolate flavanols in the flavanol-rich chocolate were absorbed into the blood stream. Flow-mediated dilation was also examined as an indicator of endothelial function, using ultrasound (sound waves) to image a blood vessel in the arm called the brachial artery. The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels responsible for regulating blood vessel dilation, or relaxation. Flow-mediated dilation is a measure of blood vessel dilation or elasticity in response to an increase in blood flow. Principle investigator, Mary B. Engler, Ph.D., R.N., M.S., F.A.H.A., professor of the Department of Physiological Nursing, University of California at San Francisco, and her research team found that the participants who consumed the flavanol-rich DOVE(R) Dark chocolate product exhibited blood vessel dilation two hours after chocolate consumption, compared to test results at baseline.

"The exciting news here is that blood vessel dilation increased in subjects who ate this commercially available chocolate product," said Dr. Marguerite Engler. "This is consistent with previous research suggesting that certain chocolates do contain enough flavanols to support cardiovascular health."

Flavanols are a sub-class of flavonoids found naturally in a variety of plant-based foods, including certain cocoas, chocolates and red wine. Decades of studies suggest that flavanols may have a host of potentially beneficial health effects. The University of California, San Francisco study supports previous research suggesting that chocolate flavanols may positively affect cardiovascular health in a number of ways. For example, studies suggest that:

* Consumption of flavanols may have an effect on the relaxation of the
smooth muscle surrounding blood vessels, an effect called vascular
dilation. Vascular dilation is important to maintaining healthy blood
flow through the vessels and is believed to be an important indicator
of cardiovascular health.
* Early in vitro research suggests that chocolate flavanols may enhance
nitric oxide synthesis and/or maintain its availability for action
within blood vessels. These and other studies have suggested the
important role that nitric oxide plays in the maintenance of a healthy
cardiovascular system by dilating arteries to increase blood flow,
maintaining elasticity and preventing platelets from adhering to artery
walls. The results of this new human study suggest that consumption of
chocolate flavanols may have the same action in vivo, since consumption
of the flavanol-rich cocoa increased flow-mediated dilation in
* Consumption of flavanols may have an aspirin-like effect on blood
components called platelets, which play a significant role in blood
clotting. Decreasing platelet activity is thought to be supportive of
heart health.

"As health professionals, we are very excited to find that a food consumers can enjoy eating in moderation may have measurable benefits on health," said Carl L. Keen, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Nutrition, professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of California at Davis, who also presented research at the session. "We've hypothesized that chocolate, if processed properly, could contain enough flavanols to have a beneficial effect on heart health. The study from University of California, San Francisco further reinforces this hypothesis."

Before consumers reach for that chocolate bar, it's important to know that not all chocolate retains the naturally-occurring flavanols, because these compounds can be lost during processing of the cocoa. Mars, Incorporated has developed proprietary methods of processing cocoa beans to retain much of the naturally-occurring flavanols in their chocolate products. The company marks these products with the Cocoapro(TM) logo, a symbol of a hand holding a cocoa bean, to signify the careful handling of the cocoa bean.

As one of the world's leading producers of chocolate, Mars, Incorporated has a strong commitment to chocolate and health research and produces a wide variety of quality snackfoods, including "M&M's"(R) Chocolate Candies, DOVE(R) Chocolate, SNICKERS(R), and 3MUSKETEERS(R) Bars.

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