Harvard Leads on Cocoa Flavanol Research

We are learning more and more about the benefits of cocoa flavanols almost daily! Right now, over 22,000 men and women across the U.S. are participating in COSMOS, a Harvard run five-year randomized trial. Results from COSMOS are expected next year.

If COSMOS confirms and extends the favorable findings of prior smaller studies – that daily cocoa flavanol consumption reduces the risk for developing heart disease, stroke, and cancer – it is sure to reshape nutritional guidelines, impact medical practice, and forever change the way the world views cocoa and chocolate! 

COSMOS is actually building on ground-breaking research begun by Harvard Professor Norm Hollenberg over two decades ago. His fascination with flavanols dates back to the early 1990s when he was searching for genes that might protect people from high blood pressure. To test an idea, Hollenberg needed an isolated people for whom high blood pressure was uncommon and didn’t rise with age. He found exactly this in the Kuna Indians, an indigenous people with remarkably low cardiovascular disease and cancer, living off the coast of Panama.

Hollenberg soon discovered, however, that Kuna islanders who emigrated to the mainland saw a sharp rise in blood pressure and cardiovascular disease as their diet and lifestyle changed. Unfortunately for his research, this meant the explanation for the Kuna’s outstanding health was not ‘good genes’. So what was responsible?

Hollenberg noticed that the average Kuna drank more than five cups of lightly processed, high flavanol cocoa per day. His study results pointed to flavanol consumption as the driver behind favorable blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Hollenberg also speculated that flavanols had a favorable impact on cognition, diabetes and stroke.

Kuna-sparked studies on cocoa flavanols (500mg to 1,000mg/day) over the past two decades have generally showed clear and consistent health benefits on blood flow, blood pressure, cognition, mood, blood sugar, cholesterol, skin wellness and exercise performance. But the vast majority of such trials were small to mid-size studies.

Until, that is, Harvard launched COSMOS in 2015. We are very excited to see COSMOS’ results! Stay tuned…and while you’re waiting, #HAVAFLAVA!

Read more about cocoa flavanol research here