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Mars gears up for large-scale cocoa flavanol pill study

By Annie Harrison-Dunn , 20-Mar-2014
Last updated on 20-Mar-2014 at 11:19 GMT

Large-scale study to assess whether cocoa flavanol supplements benefit heart health. Photo Credit: Happy Days Photos and Art
Large-scale study to assess whether cocoa flavanol supplements benefit heart health. Photo Credit: Happy Days Photos and Art

Chocolate giant Mars and the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute are readying themselves for a five-year research project into possible heart-health benefits of taking a daily flavanol-rich capsule. 

The study – which will see 18,000 participants given either two multivitamin placebo tablets or two cocoa flavanol capsules each day for four years – will seek to examine if cocoa holds health benefits when the sugar and fat of traditional chocolate is taken away.

Dr JoAnn Manson, who will lead the study, said: "In smaller studies, cocoa flavanols have been linked to improvements in intermediate risk factors for heart disease, such as reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improvements in the body's sensitivity to insulin, and improved ability of blood vessels to dilate."

'Not a chocolate pill study'

Catherine Kwik-Uribe, global nutrition director for Mars, told us: "The details of the study are still in development; however, I can say that this is not a 'chocolate' study (or 'chocolate pill”'study).  The study will utilize a capsule, each capsule providing a concentrated source of cocoa flavanols.  As these are capsules and no chocolate will be used in the study, there will be no 'chocolate' taste associated with these capsules."

"This is the largest, prospective intervention of its kind.  Specifically, the role of flavanols in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease will be evaluated," she said.

Cocoa health claim 

Last September, chocolate manufacturer and supplier Barry Callebaut won an EU flavanol health claim . The approved claim stated that eating 200 mg of cocoa flavanols daily either from cocoa beverages or dark chocolate “contributes to normal blood flow”.  Callebaut holds proprietary rights to the claim for five years.

Mars declined to give details on the levels of flavanols it will use in the experiment. Meanwhile Mars already holds a patent for a process it says maintains a higher amount of flavanols otherwise lost in regular chocolate processing.

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