Cocoa is a rich source of dietary polyphenols. In vitro as well as cell culture data indicate that cocoa polyphenols may exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-atherogenic activity. Several molecular targets (e.g., nuclear factor kappa B, endothelial nitric oxide synthase, angiotensin converting enzyme) have been recently identified which may partly explain potential beneficial cardiovascular effects of cocoa polyphenols. However cocoa polyphenol concentrations, as used in many cell culture studies, are not physiologically achievable. Bioavailability studies indicate that plasma concentrations of cocoa polyphenols following dietary intake are low and in the nanomolar range. Human studies regarding the effect of cocoa polyphenols on vascular health are often underpowered and lack a rigorous study design. If dietary cocoa polyphenol intake is due to chocolate its high energy content needs to be taken into account. In order to determine potential health benefits of cocoa polyphenols large scale, long term, randomized, placebo controlled studies, (ideally with a cross-over design) as well as prospective studies are warranted.
Keywords: cardiovascular disease; chocolate; cocoa; endothelial function; polyphenols.