Cocoa and human health

Samantha Ellam, Gary Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Cocoa is a dry, powdered, nonfat component product prepared from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao L. tree and is a common ingredient of many food products, particularly chocolate. Nutritionally, cocoa contains biologically active substances that may affect human health: flavonoids (epicatechin and oligomeric procyanidins), theobromine, and magnesium. Theobromine and epicatechin are absorbed efficiently in the small intestine, and the nature of their conjugates and metabolites are now known. Oligomeric procyanidins are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, but catabolites are very efficiently absorbed after microbial biotransformation in the colon. A significant number of studies, using in vitro and in vivo approaches, on the effects of cocoa and its constituent flavonoids have been conducted. Most human intervention studies have been performed on cocoa as an ingredient, whereas many in vitro studies have been performed on individual components. Approximately 70 human intervention studies have been carried out on cocoa and cocoa-containing products over the past 12 years, with a variety of endpoints. These studies indicate that the most robust biomarkers affected are endothelial function, blood pressure, and cholesterol level. Mechanistically, supporting evidence shows that epicatechin affects nitric oxide synthesis and breakdown (via inhibition of nicotinamide adenine di-nucleotide phosphate oxidase) and the substrate arginine (via inhibition of arginase), among other targets. Evidence further supports cocoa as a biologically active ingredient with potential benefits on biomarkers related to cardiovascular disease. However, the calorie and sugar content of chocolate and its contribution to the total diet should be taken into account in intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-128
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Nutrition
Volume33
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Flavonoid
  • Flavonol
  • Magnesium
  • Polyphenol
  • Theobromine

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