Chocolate: (un)healthy source of polyphenols?
There is recent epidemiological evidence that chocolate consumption may improve vascular health. Furthermore, several small-scale human intervention studies indicate that habitual chocolate intake enhances the production of vasodilative nitric oxide and may lower blood pressure. It is hypothesized that potential beneficial effects of chocolate on vascular health are at least partly mediated by cocoa polyphenols including procyanidins. Based on cell culture studies, molecular targets of chocolate polyphenols are endothelial nitric oxide synthetase as well as arginase. However, human bioavailability studies suggest that the plasma concentrations of cocoa polyphenols are manifold lower than those concentrations used in cultured cells in vitro. The experimental evidence for beneficial vascular effects of chocolate in human interventions studies is yet not fully convincing. Some human intervention studies on chocolate and its polyphenols lack a stringent study design. They are sometimes underpowered and not always placebo controlled. Dietary chocolate intake in many of these human studies was up to 100 g per day. Since chocolate is a rich source of sugar and saturated fat, it is questionable whether chocolate could be recommended as part of a nutrition strategy to promote vascular health.
- PMCID: PMC3040796