Over the years, there have been hundreds of news reports surrounding cocoa and dark chocolate, as well as whether they are good or dangerous for you.
The texts frequently mention flavonoids, a chemical component of cocoa and dark chocolate.
What exactly are flavonoids, though? Do they even have those in there? Why should we be concerned if it does?
Cocoa flavanols can be taken as a supplement and are abundant in cocoa powder and to a lesser extent in dark chocolate.
Flavanols (FL), also called as flavan-3-ols, are one of the most commonly eaten flavonoids in the United States.
These substances can be found in a variety of foods and beverages, as well as whole and processed foods and herbal supplements.
According to several studies, eating foods high in FL has antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, cardiopreventive, antibacterial, antiviral, and neuroprotective benefits.
However, scientists have long been unable to pinpoint the exact mechanism through which FLs exert their protective effects.
Recently, Japanese researchers set out to expand the scientific body of knowledge around FLs.
They explored the potential of ingested FLs to change white adipose tissues brown using mouse models.
White adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue make up adipose tissue, which is an important organ in maintaining body energy homeostasis. The brown adipose tissue is crucial for maintaining body temperature, whereas the white adipose tissue serves as energy storage.
Fat browning is the term used by scientists to describe the transformation of white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue. White adipose tissues, which store energy, are transformed into brown adipose tissues, which break down blood sugar and fat molecules.
This is a key therapeutic event since excessive white adipose tissue buildup is associated with obesity and the development of cardiovascular illnesses. In addition, the conversion process produces heat, which aids in body temperature regulation.
The results of their study were published in the journal nutrients.
“It is known that ingestion of foods rich in flavan 3-ols (cocoa, apples or so on) reduces the onset of obesity and its complications and also prevents heart disease. However, flavan 3-ols are poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, therefore, it remains unclear why they induce such health promotive actions,” says lead study author Naomi Osakabe.
“In our previous results”, she adds, “we found that hemodynamic alteration after ingestion of flavan 3-ols [was] induced by the sympathetic activation. Therefore, we hypothesized that flavan 3-ols might promote beige fat and conducted this experiment to prove it.”
The researchers ran two separate sets of experiments to test their theory.
The mice were randomly assigned into two treatment groups in the first trial. One group received a single dose of cocoa-derived FL diet, while the other functioned as the control group, which was not fed an FL-rich diet.
The research team took 24-hour urine samples from both groups. This was done to see how catecholamine (CA) levels changed before and after oral delivery of control and FL-rich diet, respectively.
In trial 2, the animals were also placed into two treatment groups. For 14 days, one group was fed a cocoa-derived FL diet, whereas the other group was not fed the FL-rich diet and acted as the control.
At the end of the treatment, the researchers took white and brown adipose tissue from both groups of people who had been taking the drug. They did this to find out how the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) can have long-term effects on the structure and function of these tissues.
Some aspects of their earlier work were used to motivate this new investigation, according to the researchers. They had previously discovered that a single oral dose of a FL-rich meal caused animals to become stressed. As a result, the SNS was activated, resulting in a considerable increase in catecholamine levels.
During stressful circumstances, the SNS releases catecholamines (CA), such as dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which assist govern the body’s response – fight or flight.
Researchers in that study came to the conclusion that a rise in CA levels can be utilized to determine SNS activity.
When another study revealed that SNS stimulation causes fat browning, the researchers decided to investigate FLs more.
In the first experiment, scientists found that the amount of CA excreted by the control group before and after ingesting the control meal was nearly the same throughout the course of 24 hours.
However, they found that in the test group, a single dose of a FL-rich diet led to a big rise in CA levels over the next 24 hours.
In the second experiment, the researchers discovered a rise in the expression of browning protein markers in the brown adipose tissues of FL-fed rats. Furthermore, they discovered that when the SNS was activated, beige adipose tissues developed in white adipose tissues.
These data led the researchers to the conclusion that FLs activated the SNS and were linked to fat browning when taken orally.
Surprisingly, they also revealed that “the effect of flavan 3-ols [FLs] was shown not only in subcutaneous fat but also in visceral fat.”
This finding is significant since extra visceral fat raises the risk of obesity. As a result, FLs may offer up new research routes and novel therapy options for cardiovascular and obesity-related disorders.
However, from animal studies to human therapy, there is still a long way to go.
Dr. Gunter Kuhnle, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Reading’s Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, published a study about FLs in the journal Molecular Aspects of Medicine in 2018.
The paper went over the known unknowns about FLs’ health advantages.
Dr. Kuhnle says in the article that while FLs have health benefits, the data utilized to generate the conclusions are primarily short-term and self-reported studies.
He concluded by adding that the health benefits of FLs have to be confirmed at a larger scale and with more rigor.
Part of this mandate, by the way, is practically identical to what researchers at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Japan plan to accomplish in their future study.
Additional research is needed to fully comprehend the mechanism of action of FLs, according to the scientists.
Additionally, Prof. Osakabe’s concluding remarks on the study pointed at the importance of playing the long game. She added, “[…] in this study, we found [that] flavan-3-ols enhances the browning of white adipose via sympathetic nerve hyperactivity. This [finding] has brought us closer to the elucidation of the mechanism of the risk-reducing effect of flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular disease, which has been unknown for many years.”
Despite the fact that Prof. Osakabe and her team did not obtain “neat” answers, this research advances the scientific understanding of FLs one step closer to a meaningful conclusion.
Image Credit: Getty
You were reading: Cocoa flavanol shows promise for lowering cardiovascular risk