Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L., Sterculiaceae) is a widely consumed food ingredient. Although typically found in high-fat, high-sugar foods such as chocolate, cocoa is rich in polyphenols, methylxanthines, and monounsaturated fatty acids. There is increasing evidence that moderate consumption of cocoa and cocoa-containing foods may have beneficial effects on the health including vasodilatory, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. Polyphenols in cocoa, including monomeric flavanols, as well as polymeric proanthocyanidins, may play a role in these observed beneficial effects. Chronic inflammation represents a potential mechanistic link between obesity and its related pathologies: insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hypertension, which comprise the metabolic syndrome. In the present review, we discuss the available data regarding the modulation of metabolic syndrome-related inflammation by cocoa and cocoa-derived compounds. We emphasize studies using laboratory animals or human subjects since such studies often represent the strongest available evidence for biological effects. In vitro studies are included to provide some mechanistic context, but are critically interpreted. Although the available data seem to support the anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa, further studies are needed with regard to the dose-response relationship as well as the underlying mechanisms of action. We hope this review will stimulate further research on cocoa and its anti-inflammatory activities.
© 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.