(NaturalNews) Record heat and drought conditions across much of the country make it pretty difficult to think about the approaching winter, but once it gets here why not supplement your diet with a little cocoa?
Not only does it taste good, new research shows it could be very good for you as well.
According to data culled from 20 separate studies over the last ten years, researchers have discovered that consuming dark chocolate or cocoa daily - both of which are rich in plant compounds known as flavanols - could lead to a slight dip in your blood pressure for a short while.
People who consumed flavanol-rich cocoa products daily for a few weeks saw their blood pressure drop by about two or three points. And while that may not sound like much, consider a) cocoa tastes good; b) every little bit helps when it comes to lowering blood pressure because of its long-term, cumulative effect on your cardiovascular system; and c) see answer "a."
Studies examined appear reliable
Medical experts aren't quite ready to recommend cocoa supplementation over medications aimed at treating high blood pressure. But they are saying that the level of blood pressure reduction linked to daily doses of cocoa are the equivalent to the addition of "diet changes or exercise," Reuters reported, citing the researchers.
Wait, though. That doesn't mean you should drop exercise in lieu of eating more cocoa, says Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of MichiganHealth Systems in Ann Arbor.
"If I had to choose between cocoa and exercise, I would take the exercise," said Jackson, who had no part in the new study. "To me this says a little bit of dark chocolate isn't too bad, but you wouldn't want to go overboard with the calories and eat a pound of chocolate," she said.
The comparative study, the results of which were published in The Cochrane Library, researchers from Australia examined a number of online databases to find randomized controlled trials, which are considered the "gold standard" of medical research, comparing people who ate flavanol-filled cocoa products to people eating low-flavanol cocoa powder or products that contained no flavanol.
The researchers could not say flavanols are responsible for lowering blood pressure in participants of the study. But the compounds themselves, which are also found in other foods (green tea, red wine, berries) have been linked to the production of nitric oxide in the body which, the authors note, helps to relax blood vessels. That, in turn, lowers blood pressure.
The American Heart Association says a persons' systolic blood pressure - that's the top number - should be lower than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while their diastolic, or lower, number should be around 80 mm Hg or less.
There are some variables, but overall it seems to work
The studies examined followed people who were generally healthy for between two and 18 weeks. Researchers say that of 856 participants, 429 of them ate between three grams and 100 grams of cocoa or dark chocolate that contained anywhere between 30 mg to 1080 mg of flavanols every day.
The remaining 427 people were put in groups that ate low-flavanol cocoa powder and other products that did not contain them at all.
At the end of the studies, the flavanol-rich group saw systolic blood pressure drops of about 2.8 mm Hg and diastolic decreases of about 2.2 mm Hg.
There were some additional factors to consider regarding the results, experts noted.
For one, it's not clear exactly how much of the flavanol-rich cocoa should be consumed daily in order to substantially reduce blood pressure or even if larger doses would have greater effects. Also, not all cocoa products are created equal; Some contain more flavanols than others.
And, experts noted, the effects seemed to be greater in younger adults, a finding that led Jackson to comment that she wasn't surprised since blood vessels tend to become less elastic as people get older.
Nevertheless, the study's lead author sounded a positive note overall.
"Moderate, regular dosages of flavanol-rich cocoa products such as dark chocolate may be part of a comprehensive lifestyle plan to optimizing health," Dr. Karin Ried of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Melbourne, told Reuters.