Cocoa before bed might be more than a comforting, warming drink.
Cocoa flavanols improve cardiovascular function and so lessen the burden on the heart that comes with ageing and stiffening of the arteries.
The flavanols also reduce the risk of developing heart disease, the world’s number one killer.
Cocoa flavanols are plant derived bioactives from the cacao bean.
Previous studies have shown that cocoa flavanol improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure but these studies focused on high risk groups like smokers and people already diagnosed with coronary heart disease.
Two recent studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition and the journal Age are the first to look at the effects on the blood vessels of healthy, low risk individuals with no symptoms of heart disease.
They found that the reduced the risk of heart disease by 22pc and the risk of a heart attack by 31pc.
In the first study two groups took part – one of people less than 35 years of age and one of 50-80 years of age.
They drank a flavanol drink twice a day for two weeks.
The researchers measured stiffness of the arteries, blood pressure and the dilation of blood vessels.
They found that the dilation of blood vessels improved significantly in both age groups – by 33pc in the young group and 32pc in the older group.
The older group also had a clinically significant drop in systolic blood pressure.
In the second study the researchers looked at 100 healthy middle aged men and women aged between 35-60 years with a low risk of heart disease.
“We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health,” said Professor Malte Kelm, professor of cardiology, pulmonary disease and vascular medicine at the University Hospital Dusseldorf.
In particular, the researchers found that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased the blood vessel dilation by 21pc which has been linked to a decreased risk of developing heart disease.
In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure and improved blood cholesterol.