- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A cup of cocoa is more than comfort, it’s akin to medicine for those with high blood pressure, says an analysis in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

“The effects are comparable to those achieved with blood-pressure-lowering medication,” noted Dr. Dirk Taubert of the University Hospital of Cologne in Germany.

The numbers are specific, as are the health benefits.

“At the population level, a reduction of 4 to 5 millimeters of mercury in systolic blood pressure and 2 to 3 millimeters of mercury in diastolic blood pressure would be expected to substantially reduce the risk of stroke by about 20 percent, coronary heart disease by 10 percent and all-cause mortality by 8 percent,” Dr. Taubert said.

His “meta-analysis” of several studies, published yesterday, gauged the effects of both cocoa and tea on 523 persons with high blood pressure over two-week and four-week periods. It found that cocoa — not tea — proved the more beneficial for them.

Four of the five trials involving cocoa drinkers revealed a reduction in blood pressure by an average 4.7 millimeters of mercury for systolic (top number) and an average 2.8 millimeters lower for diastolic (lower number), compared with those who didn’t drink cocoa.

“Drinking tea was not associated with a reduction in blood pressure in any of the trials,” Dr. Taubert said.

Both these comforting drinks are rich in polyphenols — plant-based antioxidant substances with potential health benefits. Cocoa, however, appears to contain more procyanids, a compound which helps high blood pressure in particular.

“This suggests that the different plant phenols must be differentiated with respect to their blood-pressure?lowering potential and thus cardiovascular-disease prevention,” the study stated.

But the findings are not a license to swill big cups of whole-milk cocoa with all the trimmings.

“We believe that any dietary advice must account for the high sugar, fat and calorie intake with most cocoa products,” Dr. Taubert said. “Rationally applied, cocoa products might be considered part of dietary approaches to lower hypertension risk.”

He’s not the only cocoa-happy physician.

A Harvard University Medical School study released March 11 compared the health effects of cocoa drinking with penicillin, also suggesting that epicatechin — a procyanid — should be considered a bona fide vitamin. Another Harvard study released in August found that cocoa improved blood-vessel functioning and reduced the potential for blood clots.

Yale University researchers also confirmed cocoa’s cardiovascular benefits in research released last month that found blood flow to the heart increased by as much as 39 percent among those who drank a nonfat, no-sugar cocoa beverage.

It’s also brain food, according to some. In a study released in February, researchers at Britain’s University of Nottingham Medical School found that the drink improved blood flow in the brain and improved cognitive functions, particularly among older adults.

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