Cocoa is a delicious natural remedy for high blood pressure. Cocoa powder is a rich source of antioxidant flavanol polyphenols that dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and protect against heart attack and stroke. There’s even an allowed EU health claim that cocoa flavanols dilate blood vessels and contribute to cardiovascular health, elasticity of arteries and blood circulation. Cocoa powder is also a good source of blood-pressure lowering minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
Cocoa and blood pressure
The Kuna islanders, who live off the coast of Panama, consume large quantities of cocoa and do not develop the same age-related increased in blood pressure that occurs elsewhere. When they migrate to Panama City and no long follow the same cocoa enriched diet, however, their blood pressure goes up.
Cocoa flavanols act like l-arginine, and beet juice, to increase the availability of nitric oxide in blood vessel linings. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and makes them more elastic, so blood pressure falls.
Cocoa lowers blood pressure
The results from 35 trials which compared cocoa flavanols (doses between 30mg to 1218 mg per day) to placebo or a low-flavanol cocoa powder in 1804 mainly healthy people, showed that even in those without hypertension, cocoa lowered blood pressure by a small but statistically significant amount of 1.76/1.76 mmHg.
Another analysis of 10 studies involving 297 healthy people with either normal blood pressure, high normal blood pressure (prehypertension) or mild untreated hypertension showed that flavanol-rich cocoa products (dark chocolate or hot cocoa) lowered blood pressure by an average of 4.5/2.5 mmHg more than a flavanol-free placebo.
Cocoa and heart disease
As well as dilating coronary arteries and improving their elasticity, cocoa flavanols have an aspirin-like action to prevent unwanted blood clots. This blood thinning effect lasts for at least 6 hours after drinking a single mug of cocoa containing 18.75mg flavanols.
A study from The Netherlands which followed 470 men for 15 years, found that those who consumed the most cocoa products (over 2.25 grams per day, with an average intake of 4.18 grams per day) had a blood pressure that was lower by an average of 3.7/2.1 mmHg after taking other factors into account.
The cocoa lovers were also 50% less likely to die from any medical cause, including a heart attack or stroke, than those who consumed less than 0.5grams cocoa per day.
The results from seven studies, involving over 114,000 people, also showed that men and women with the highest intake of cocoa or dark chocolate were 37% less likely to experience a heart attack, and 29% less likely to have a stroke, than those with the lowest intakes.
Cocoa flavanols dose
A heart-friendly dose of cocoa flavanols is 300mg to 600mg per day.
A small, 40g bar of dark chocolate typically provides over 300mg of flavanol polyphenols, while a typical cocoa powder provides 500mg flavanols per 100g weight.
One brand, Aduna Super-Cacao, provides eight times as many flavanols – an extraordinary 4000mg flavanol polyphenols per 100g cacao powder. Just two teaspoons (5 grams) of Aduna Super-Cacao contains 200mg flavanol polyphenols.
Enjoy a mug of hot chocolate every night and see your blood pressure come down. It’s fine to add milk (which provides calcium) but don’t add sugar and definitely steer clear of marshmallows!
Self-monitoring is the key to maintaining good blood pressure control.