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Consuming more cocoa could be the key to reducing stress, study suggests

Experts encourage consumers to incorporate more foods with high levels of flavanols into their diets

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Photo (c) Pollyana Ventura - Getty Images
There has been no shortage of stress for consumers over the last year. While experts have been hard at work identifying things people can do to relieve stress, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that a simple diet change may also be helpful. 

According to their findings, consuming foods and drinks high in flavanols can reduce stress. While this compound can be found in fruits and vegetables, the study focused specifically on a flavanol-rich cocoa drink that was highly effective.

“We found that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa can be an effective dietary strategy to reduce temporary impairments in endothelial function following mental stress and also improve blood flow during stressful episodes,” said researcher Dr. Catarina Rendeiro. “By utilizing the known cardiovascular benefits of these compounds during periods of acute vascular vulnerability (such as stress) we can offer improved guidance to people about how to make the most of their dietary choices during stressful periods.”  

The body’s response to flavanols

For the study, the researchers had 30 healthy men drink a flavanol-rich cocoa drink an hour and a half before a stress-inducing task. To gauge how the flavanols worked to lower stress, the researchers measured the participants’ blood flow before, during, and after the stressful task. 

The researchers learned that while the participants were engaged in the task, the flavanol cocoa drink was effective at improving physiological signs of stress. Participants had better overall blood flow while in a high-stress situation, and that effect remained for several hours after the task was done. 

These findings are important because proper blood flow and blood vessel function is how the body protects itself against several serious conditions, like kidney failure, viral infections, and heart disease, among others. Because the body responds so strongly to stress, it’s crucial that consumers understand what resources are available to lower stress both physically and mentally. 

Accessible way to reduce stress

Flavanols are so easily accessible, which makes these findings all the more applicable to consumers’ day-to-day lives. Incorporating more flavanol-rich foods and drinks can have long-term benefits for consumers’ health and wellness. 

“Our findings are significant for everyday diet, given that the daily dosage administered could be achieved by consuming a variety of foods rich in flavanols -- particularly apples, black grapes, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, pears, pulses, green tea, and unprocessed cocoa,” Dr. Rendeiro said. “This has important implications for measures to protect the blood vessels of those individuals who are more vulnerable to the effects of mental stress.” 

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