The potential heart health benefits of dark chocolate may be only partly linked to the flavanol content, with white chocolate - devoid of such compounds - also offering potential cardiovascular benefits, says a new study.
Beneficial effects on platelet activation and aggregation were observed, according to findings published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research , but the effects were found to diminish about six hours after eating the chocolate.
“Therefore regular consumption of small quantities of flavan-3-ol-rich dark chocolates may help to sustain these effects for longer,” wrote researchers from the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen, the Institute of Food Research, Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), and CEBAS-CSIC in Murcia, Spain.
“Nevertheless, increasing consumption of such products will also increase fat and sugar consumption, which may outweigh any beneficial anti-platelet effects.”
The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been gathering increasing column inches in the national media. To date studies have reported potential benefits for cardiovascular health, skin health, and even brain health.
The majority of science into the potential benefits of cocoa have revolved around cardiovascular benefits of the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin.
Recently, however, scientists from the University of Reading in England and Mars reported that cocoa may also affect gut microflora and possess prebiotic potential.
Dark or white?
Using chocolates specifically produced by Natraceutical Group in Spain, the researchers recruited 42 healthy people and randomly gave them acute doses of flavan-3-ol-enriched dark, standard dark or white chocolate.
Sixty grams of the flavan-3-ol-enriched dark, standard dark or white chocolate contained 907 milligrams, 382 mg, and zero mg, of total flavonoids, respectively.
Results showed that the flavan-3-ol-enriched dark chocolate was associated with a significant decrease in platelet aggregation, as well as the expression of the protein P-selectin, which functions in as a cell adhesion molecule. These effects were only observed in men, however.
On the other hand, the enriched dark chocolate was associated with a decrease in platelet aggregation and an increase in fibrinogen binding in women. Both genders experienced increases in ex vivo bleeding times.
Men consuming the white chocolate also experienced a decrease in P-selectin expression and an increase in bleeding time.
“Differences in efficacy by which flavan-3-ols affect platelet function were only partially explained by concentrations of flavan-3-ols and their metabolites in plasma or urine,” said the researchers.
“Flavan-3-ols in dark chocolate, but also compounds in white chocolate, can improve platelet function, dependent on gender, and may thus beneficially affect atherogenesis,” they concluded.
Source: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201200283
“Flavan-3-ol-enriched dark chocolate and white chocolate improve acute measures of platelet function in a gender-specific way—a randomized-controlled human intervention trial”
Authors: L.M. Ostertag, P.A. Kroon, S. Wood, G.W. Horgan, E. Cienfuegos-Jovellanos, S. Saha, G.G. Duthie, B. de Roos