A study to be conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, will examine whether adding flavonoids found in cocoa to the diet, gives additional protection against heart disease on top of that provided by prescription drugs.
A Belgian chocolate-maker has helped formulate a chocolate bar containing a higher dose of the protective compounds found in cocoa than in standard chocolate. Likewise soy has also been added, which is another good source of flavonoids.
The focus group for the research will be 150 postmenopausal women under the age of 70 with type 2 diabetes. Deaths due to heart disease increase rapidly after the menopause and having type 2 diabetes increases this risk by a further three and a half times, according to the researchers.
Flavonoid can help to reduce heart disease risk
"We hope to show that adding flavonoids to their diets will provide additional protection from heart disease and give women the opportunity to take more control over reducing their risk of heart disease in the future", said Professor Aedin Cassidy, lead researcher and Professor of Diet and Health at UEA.
If the trial confirms the beneficial affects of flavonoids "it could have a far-reaching impact on the advice we give to postmenopausal women who have type 2 diabetes", said Dr Ketan Dhatariya, one of the researchers and a consultant in diabetes at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
A UEA statement confirmed that as part of the study participants will have their risk of heart disease tested on five occasions during the year to see whether change occurs.
The health benefits of flavanols have been known for some time.
Study pinpoints chocolate as beneficial to the heart
In March this year researchers from the Univeristy of Illinois, in conjunction with Mars, published a peer reviewed study in Journal of Nutrition that found consuming chocolate containing cocoa flavanols and plant sterols can lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
"We know that Americans are increasingly looking for foods to help them maintain their health," said study co-author and Mars research scientist Catherine Kwik-Uriben PhD.
"Our study supports the possibility that chocolate products specially formulated to contain both plant sterols and cocoa flavanols can, in the context of a balanced diet, be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure."
A report published in December 2007 by Global Business Insights predicted that green, which contains high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, was among the main functional ingredients likely to become more popular.
The UEA research is being funded by Diabetes UK and includes partners at the Elsie Bertram Diabetes Centre, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Institute of Food Research.