~ 070607 Cocoa Polyphenols Reduce Blood Pressure

The July 4, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the results of a randomized clinical trial which found that consuming small amounts of dark chocolate is associated with a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP). The findings of previous research suggest that polyphenols, a group of plant compounds including flavanols that have been associated with a number of health benefits, may be responsible for a blood pressure-lowering effect associated with eating chocolate.

Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, of University Hospital in Cologne, Germany, and his associates gave 20 men and 24 women 6.3 grams per day dark chocolate, providing 30 milligrams polyphenols, or an equal amount of white chocolate, which does not contain polyphenols, for 18 weeks. Participants were 56 to 73 years of age with untreated upper-range prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension. Blood pressure, weight, and blood values of cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and S-nitrosoglutathione (vasodilative nitric oxide--which increases the dilation of blood vessels resulting in lower blood pressure), were measured at the beginning of the study and at 6, 12 and 18 weeks.

At the trial's conclusion, those who received dark chocolate experienced an average reduction of 2.9 mm Hg systolic and 1.9 mm Hg diastolic blood pressure. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure remained the same in the white chocolate group throughout the treatment period. A concern regarding increased chocolate intake has been that health benefits could be offset by increased weight gain, serum lipids, or blood glucose, however, these remained essentially unchanged. Hypertension prevalence decreased from 86 percent to 68 percent in the dark chocolate group, and S-nitrosoglutathione was elevated in plasma, while not changing among those who received white chocolate.

"Although the magnitude of the BP reduction was small, the effects are clinically noteworthy," the authors observe. "On a population basis, it has been estimated that a 3 mm Hg reduction in systolic BP would reduce the relative risk of stroke mortality by 8 percent, of coronary artery disease mortality by 5 percent, and of all-cause mortality by 4 percent."

"The most intriguing finding of this study is that small amounts of commercial cocoa confectionary convey a similar BP-lowering potential compared with comprehensive dietary modifications that have proven efficacy to reduce cardiovascular event rate," they note. "Whereas long-term adherence to complex behavioral changes is often low and requires continuous counseling, adoption of small amounts of flavanol-rich cocoa into the habitual diet is a dietary modification that is easy to adhere to and therefore may be a promising behavioral approach to lower blood pressure in individuals with above-optimal blood pressure," the authors conclude.

Health Concern: High Blood Pressure

Nutrients that may help lower blood pressure include:
  • C12 casein peptide—200 to 400 milligrams (mg)/day
  • Grape seed extract—150 to 300 mg/day
  • Pomegranate extract—50 to 100 mg/day
  • Arjuna bark extract—250 to 500 mg twice a day
  • Calcium—1200 to 1500 mg/day
  • CoQ10—100 to 300 mg/day
  • Garlic—1200 mg/day
  • Hawthorn berry extract—240 mg twice a day between meals
  • L-arginine—2000 mg three times a day between meals
  • Magnesium—500 mg/day (or more), based on maximum bowel tolerance and hypotensive effect; take the most at night before bed
  • Olive leaf extract—500 mg/day
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—1400 mg/day of EPA and 1000 mg/day of DHA
  • Potassium—99 mg/day (or more) when instructed to do so by a health care professional, based on blood test results
  • Soy protein—17 to 34 grams (g)/day
  • Taurine—1000 to 6000 mg/day
  • Vitamin C—1 to 3 g/day
  • Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol succinate)—400 International Units (IU)/day with about 200 mg of gamma-tocopherol.

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