Blood vessels were able to function better during mental stress when people were given a cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols than when drinking a non-flavanol enriched drink, according to a new study published in the journal Nutrients.
Stress is highly prevalent in today’s society and has been closely associated with both psychological and physical health.
Single episodes of stress have been shown to increase the risk of acute cardiovascular events. Furthermore, it is well established that stress perturbs cardiovascular activity, and such responses can contribute to stress-induced cardiovascular events.
Indeed, lab-based stress tasks have been shown to evoke temporary myocardial ischemia, with peripheral vascular responses during mental stress associated with mental stress-induced ischemia.
Flavanols, a group of plant-derived polyphenolic compounds, improve endothelial function and blood pressure in humans. However, their effects during stress are not well known.
“Flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruit and vegetables,” said Dr. Catarina Rendeiro, a researcher in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham.
“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.”
Dr. Rendeiro and colleagues used a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind design to examine the effects of acute intake of cocoa flavanols on stress-induced changes on vascular function.
In the study, a group of healthy men drank a high-flavanol cocoa beverage 90 min before completing an 8-min mental stress task.
The researchers measured forearm blood flow and cardiovascular activity at rest and during stress and assessed functioning of the blood vessels up to 90 min post stress.
They discovered that blood vessel function was less impaired when the participants drank high-flavanol cocoa. They also found that flavanols improve blood flow during stress.
“We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes,” Dr. Rendeiro said.
“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.”
Rosalind Baynham et al. 2021. Cocoa Flavanols Improve Vascular Responses to Acute Mental Stress in Young Healthy Adults. Nutrients 13 (4): 1103; doi: 10.3390/nu13041103
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