All the talk about chocolate being good for your health is starting to get serious, with new evidence reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
And with this emphasis in learning more about the benefits of chocolate, candy maker Mars Inc., of chocolate bar fame, has established a scientific division called Symbioscience.
Mars researchers have published a report showing that an enriched hot cocoa beverage can improve blood flow in persons with type 2 diabetes.
"The study is the first of its kind in terms of its rigor, as well as the population studied," says Harold Schmitz, Ph.D., chief science officer of Mars.
"Diabetics treated as well as they could be treated with pharmaceutical intervention did see, on average, a 30 percent improvement in vascular function," he says.
The study researchers asked 41 adults with type 2 diabetes to drink cocoa enriched with flavanols, which are natural compounds found in some fruits and vegetables and in chocolate - especially the dark kind.
Flavanols are believed to improve blood flow by increasing the production of nitric oxide, which causes arteries to relax.
After an initial trial of cocoa containing various amounts of flavanols, the participants were assigned to drink cocoa with either 321 milligrams or 25 milligrams of flavanols per serving three times a day for 30 days.
The researchers then tested the participants for "flow-mediated dilation," the ability of the arteries to expand in response to the body's demand for more blood and oxygen.
Before the study began, the brachial artery in the upper arms of the participants expanded only 3.3 percent on average.
After 30 days of the high-flavanol cocoa, the expansion was 5.8 percent after the beverage was drunk. No increase was seen in the people who consumed low-flavanol cocoa.
"This is a nice study, confirming and extending previous work that cocoa compounds can enhance vasodilation in humans to diabetes patients," says Henriette van Praag, Ph.D., an investigator in the National Institute on Aging Neuroplasticity and Behavior Unit.
"The study would have been better if they had tested the individual flavanols they suggest are responsible for the effect separately," says Dr. van Praag.
Nutritionist Angela Kurtz, at New York University Medical Center, also had some mild criticism of the study, centering on the caloric content of cocoa.
"Those 170 extra calories in the cocoa would promote obesity," she says. "You would have to omit some other calorie sources that match that amount to prevent weight gain."
Still, Kurtz says, "The bottom line is that diabetics who have a poor vascular system can benefit from something that gives pleasure at the same time it helps health. Cocoa increases the amount of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals."
Dr. Schmitz says more research is needed to substantiate the findings.
"Clearly, the next step is a long study with enough subjects to clearly demonstrate there is a benefit of flavanol-enriched beverages for diabetics," he explains.
Mars has been sponsoring research on the health benefits of chocolate products for years, notes Dr. Schmitz.
"We've published a lot of peer-reviewed papers, well over 100,” he says.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by a failure to secrete enough insulin, or, in some cases, the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced.
Because insulin is needed by the body to convert glucose into energy, these failures result in abnormally high levels of glucose accumulating in the blood.
Diabetes may be a result of other conditions such as genetic syndromes, chemicals, drugs, malnutrition, infections, viruses, or other illnesses.
The three main types of diabetes - type 1, type 2, and gestational - are all defined as metabolic disorders that affect the way the body metabolizes, or uses, digested food to make glucose, the main source of fuel for the body.
In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be defined as diabetes. However, many people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, states the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Prediabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
For glucose to be able to move into the cells of the body, the hormone insulin must be present. Insulin is produced primarily in the pancreas, and, normally, is readily available to move glucose into the cells.
However, in persons with diabetes, the pancreas produces either too little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.
This causes a build-up of glucose in the blood, which passes into the urine where it is eventually eliminated, leaving the body without its main source of fuel.
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death among Americans, and the fifth leading cause of death from disease. Although it is believed that diabetes is under-reported as a condition leading to or causing death, each year, more than 200,000 deaths are reported as being caused by diabetes or its complications.
Complications of diabetes include eye problems and blindness, heart disease, stroke, neurological problems, amputation, and impotence.
Because diabetes (with the exception of gestational diabetes) is a chronic, incurable disease that affects nearly every part of the body, contributes to other serious diseases, and can be life threatening, it must be managed under the care of a physician throughout a person's life.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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