Researchers from Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts, United States) found that native people living on the island group Kuna, off the Caribbean coast of Panama in Central America, did not have high blood pressure when young and old. However, if these natives left their homeland for the Central American mainland, their blood pressure went up.
After about fifteen years of research to find a cause for this difference, the researchers found that Kuna natives drink several cups of cocoa each day. However, if they move away from Kuna, then that habit did not continue or did not continue in exactly the same way.
The researchers eventually found the crucial link. They discovered that cocoa drank by Kuna natives is very high in the compounds called flavonids, while the cocoa drank on the mainland is not rich in flavonids.
Derived from plants, flavonoids is a class of secondary metabolites that have been shown in previous studies to improve the body’s response when attacked by carcinogens, allergens, and viruses. If proven true, flavonids have the potential to help prevent cancers and cardiovascular diseases. (Other foods and drinks shown to contain flavonid compounds include fruit, vegetables, tea, and red wine.)
Because flavonid compounds have a bitter taste, they are often removed from cocoa made by manufacturers in large quantities in most countries.
To confirm their findings, the researchers gave flavonoid-rich cocoa to 50-year-old and older people, while another group of the same age range was given cocoa without flavonoids. Their study found that the flavonoid-rich group had blood flow in the brain that was 10 to 15% better than the brain flow in the non-flavonoid group.
Within their study, the collaborators mention that some chocolate and cocoa manufacturers are beginning to realize the health benefits of flavonoids. As a result, they are reintroducing them into their products.