High blood pressure affects more than one in four adults in England and more than 4.3 million more people are thought to have undiagnosed and untreated high blood pressure. Its prevalence is concerning because hypertension is a precursor to heart disease – a major killer. Luckily, you can reduce high blood pressure through your diet and a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, will rejoice those with a sweet tooth.
Cocoa has been shown to reduce elevated blood pressure and arterial stiffness in first real-life study.
Cocoa flavanols – compounds found in raw cocoa – have previously been found to lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness as much as some blood pressure medication.
However, how effective flavanols are in everyday life in reducing blood pressure has remained unknown, as previous studies in this area have been performed in tightly controlled experimental settings.
University of Surrey’s new research reduces concerns that cocoa as a treatment for raised blood pressure could pose health risks by decreasing blood pressure when it is not raised, paving the way for it to be potentially used in clinical practice.
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In the first study of its kind, researchers set out to investigate the use of flavanols in lowering blood pressure and arterial stiffness in individuals outside of clinical settings.
Christian Heiss, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increases a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes, so it is crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat such conditions.
“Before we even consider introducing cocoa into clinical practices, we need to test if the results previously reported in laboratory settings safely translate into real-world settings, with people going about their everyday lives.”
For several days, eleven healthy participants consumed, on alternating days, either six cocoa flavanol capsules or six placebo capsules containing brown sugar.
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Participants were provided with an upper arm blood pressure monitor and a finger clip measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) which gauges levels of arterial stiffness.
Measurements of blood pressure and PWV were taken prior to consumption of the capsules and every 30 minutes after ingestion for the first three hours, and then hourly for the remaining nine hours.
Researchers found that blood pressure and arterial stiffness were only lowered in participants if it was high, and there was no effect when the blood pressure was low in the morning.
Significantly, effects were also, for the first time, identified at eight hours after cocoa was consumed.
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Researchers believe that this second peak may be due to how bacteria in the gut metabolise cocoa flavanols.
Professor Heiss added: “The positive impact cocoa flavanols have on our cardiovascular system, in particular, blood vessel function and blood pressure, is undeniable.
“Doctors often fear that some blood pressure tablets can decrease the blood pressure too much on some days.
“What we have found indicates that cocoa flavanols only decrease blood pressure if it is elevated. Working with participants’ personal health technologies showed us how variable blood pressure and arterial stiffness can be from day to day and shows the role of personal health monitors in developing and implementing effective personalised care.”
High blood pressure – getting tested
Around a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many will not realise it.
The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.
You can get your blood pressure tested at a number of places, including:
- At your GP surgery
- At some pharmacies
- As part of your NHS Health Check
- In some workplaces.
You can also check your blood pressure yourself with a home blood pressure monitor.