It's hard not to love chocolate, and nutritionists have touted chocolate’s cardiovascular benefits for years. A study in 2015 found that regular consumption of dark chocolate correlated with a reduced risk of heart disease. But the milk fat and sugar content of mainstream chocolate and the bitter taste of dark chocolate make consumption in medically beneficial volume a challenge for most Americans.
That's why researchers are now looking for long-term volunteers to take part in a study that tests the efficacy of cocoa extract refined to be administered in pill form. The goal is to find out if chocolate pills can provide the unique benefits of chocolate to those at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
Plans for the Chocolate Pill Study
The chocolate pill will squeeze 1,000 calories worth of dark chocolate extract into a single pill intended not as a snack but as a direct delivery of cocoa to the bloodstream. As a nutrient, the cocoa will be able to carry out its beneficial actions without adding a load of calories from fat and causing the body to process and filter sugar.
Recruiting for the study is focusing on men 60 and older and women 65 and older who are willing to take chocolate pills (or a placebo) on a schedule for four years. The study will split them evenly between a placebo group and a chocolate pill group, and they will be tested after the four-year timeline has passed to determine if the active ingredients in cocoa really can reduce the risk of heart attack, cognitive decline, and stroke.
Why Can't I Just Eat Chocolate?
You can – but the calorie count of traditional chocolate delivery methods, especially chocolate bars and hot chocolate, may cause negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of chocolate’s flavanols and polyphenols that help with vasodilation. Weight gain and arterial plaque from the consumption of too much sugar and fat exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the factors that increase the risk of heart disease.
Consuming milk chocolate (an American favorite) on a regular basis is a practice that is far too high in sugar and fat. If consumers were to take in chocolate in volumes large enough to extract the necessary heart-healthy nutrients from the cocoa, deposits of plaque and adipose tissue would easily outpace the ability of flavanols to improve blood flow and cardiovascular strength.
Could cocoa be a healthy way to protect your health?
Dark chocolate has roughly 5 times the percentage of cocoa that milk chocolate does and is one of the most recommended current delivery methods of chocolate. A quarter ounce of dark chocolate with minimal sweetener per day is believed to have tremendous health benefits, but it still comes with the weight of calories.
The goal of the chocolate pill is to eliminate any additional ingredients and provide only pure, nutritious cocoa without the burden of chewing and swallowing a highly bitter bar of refined unsweetened chocolate or trying to eat a handful of cocoa powder. Whether it proves to be a contender in the fight against cardiovascular disease leans on the results of the four-year test and whether or not researchers can prove the effectiveness of the cocoa bean in improving heart health.