More good news about chocolate

From Boston, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

How about drinking 5 cups of cocoa every day to keep your blood pressure down?

That regimen appears to work for the Kuna people of Central America. The Kunas’ cocoa is rich in chemicals, called flavanols, that aren’t present in large amounts in commercial cocoa, say the researchers who identified the connection.

They collaborated with the New Jersey-based candy company Mars.

The Kuna people living on their native island east of Panama don’t suffer from age-related high blood pressure, but those who move to the mainland–and no longer eat flavanol-rich cocoa–do, reports Norman Hollenberg of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Analysis of the island Kunas’ kidney function suggested that their bodies were producing extra nitric oxide.

These findings are consistent with other studies suggesting that flavanols help produce nitric oxide, a chemical that opens arteries and performs other biological functions known to improve cardiovascular health.

In a follow-up experiment, Hollenberg and his colleagues gave high- and low-flavanol cocoa to volunteers in Boston. Those who drank flavanol-rich cocoa had better kidney function than people who drank low-flavanol cocoa did.

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