Drinking cocoa is a great way to warm up after a day spent playing in the snow or to satisfy a craving for something sweet. However, it also has some pretty impressive health benefits, scientists now say. A new study from the University of Birmingham discovered that blood vessels functioned better during times of intense mental stress when people were given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink, according to ScienceDaily.
"Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables. By utilizing the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress) we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods," said lead author Dr. Catarina Rendeiro, of the University of Birmingham's School of Sport, Exercise, and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Related: Science Says a Diet High in Tea, Berries, and Apples May Reduce Blood Pressure
During the study, a group of healthy adult men drank a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 minutes before completing an eight-minute mental stress task. The researchers measured blood flow in the forearm and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress. They then assessed how well the blood vessels functioned up to 90 minutes post-stress and found that they were significantly less impacted when participants drank a high flavanol cocoa beverage.
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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, adults and children are reporting that their stress level are at an all-time high. Single episodes of stress have been proven to increase the risk of acute cardiovascular events. Stress-induced cardiovascular events may be triggered by the impact of stress on blood vessels. "Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols—particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea, and unprocessed cocoa. This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress," said Dr. Rendeiro.
A previous study conducted in 2015 found that cocoa flavanols made significant improvements to individuals' attention span, brain function, and memory.