Blacksburg, VA — Scientists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University have identified an antioxidant compound in cocoa that shows efficacy in lowering blood sugar and preventing weight gain in mice that have a high-fat diet.
Data from the long-term study suggest oligomeric procyanidins contained in cocoa flavanols could be useful in controlling metabolic syndrome. However, Andrew Neilson, PhD, associate professor of food science and technology in the College of Agriculture and senior author of the paper, cautions the research is in its early stages and warns it should not be interpreted to mean eating chocolate confers health benefits. He explains: “We are trying to identify compounds and insert them into products that can be enhanced to exert desired health effects.”
In the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, mice were fed a high-fat diet supplemented with either a cocoa flavanol extract or a flavanol compound enriched with monomeric, oligomeric or polymeric procyanidins for 12 weeks. Although all of the mice had the same diet, those who received the oligomeric fraction gained less weight, had smaller fat masses, and exhibited better glucose tolerance and less insulin resistance than mice in any other group.
“Initially cocoa was shown to have cardiovascular benefits,” Neilson says. “Now we are looking at other benefits.” He adds the research is notable because of its length, use of live animal subjects and lower amount of cocoa compounds compared with other studies: “It’s important to use translatable doses to really see the effects of the compounds and how they function.”