The metabolic syndrome is a pathological state whereby cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction coexist and typically progress in a mutual feed-forward manner to further dysfunction and ultimately disease. The health and function of the vascular endothelium is integral in this phenomenon and thus represents a logical target for intervention. Consumption of foods high in cocoa flavanols has demonstrated a capacity to markedly improve endothelial function and key markers of the metabolic syndrome including blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. The typically high energy content of foods containing sufficient doses of cocoa flavanols has caused some reservations around its therapeutic use, but this is dependent upon the particulars of the food matrix used. Further to this, the food matrix appears to influence the dose response curve of cocoa flavanols, particularly on blood pressure, with dark chocolate appearing to be 8 times more effective in systolic blood pressure reduction than a cocoa powder drink for the equivalent dose of flavanol. Cocoa flavanol consumption conclusively demonstrates a positive impact on cardiometabolic function; however, more research is needed to understand how best to consume it to maximize the benefit while avoiding excessive fat and sugar consumption.
Keywords: blood pressure; cocoa; dark chocolate; dose response; metabolic syndrome; vascular endothelium.