Flavanol-enriched chocolate consumption increases endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Most research so far has focused on flow-mediated dilation (FMD) only; the effects on other factors relevant to endothelial health, such as inflammation and leukocyte adhesion, have hardly been addressed. We investigated whether consumption of regular dark chocolate also affects other markers of endothelial health, and whether chocolate enrichment with flavanols has additional benefits. In a randomized double-blind crossover study, the effects of acute and of 4 wk daily consumption of high flavanol chocolate (HFC) and normal flavanol chocolate (NFC) on FMD, augmentation index (AIX), leukocyte count, plasma cytokines, and leukocyte cell surface molecules in overweight men (age 45-70 yr) were investigated. Sensory profiles and motivation scores to eat chocolate were also collected. Findings showed that a 4 wk chocolate intake increased FMD by 1%, which was paralleled by a decreased AIX of 1%, decreased leukocyte cell count, decreased plasma sICAM1 and sICAM3, and decreased leukocyte adhesion marker expression (P<0.05 for time effect), with no difference between HFC and NFC consumption. Flavanol enrichment did affect taste and negatively affected motivation to consume chocolate. This study provides new insights on how chocolate affects endothelial health by demonstrating that chocolate consumption, besides improving vascular function, also lowers the adherence capacity of leukocytes in the circulation.
Keywords: augmentation index; cardiovascular disease; flow mediated dilation; high-fat challenge.