Recent study by Mars, Incorporated and partners underscores importance of metabolism in understanding health benefits of cocoa flavanols
Posted on April 30, 2012 by Dan Kilcoyne
New analytical methods improve understanding of flavanol absorption and metabolism and provide basis for meaningful in vitro studies to assess exactly how these compounds work in the body
MCLEAN, VA. (Jan. 25, 2012) --- A comprehensive investigation of flavanol absorption and metabolism has provided a critical step forward in our understanding of how cocoa flavanols work in the body to exert their circulatory and cardiovascular benefits. Through the development of improved analytical methods, this recent work provides detailed insights into the extensive metabolism of flavanols, which calls into question the reliability of in vitro studies using un-metabolized materials. This collaborative research was conducted by an international team of scientists from Mars, Incorporated, the University of California, Davis (US) and the University of Reading (UK).
Increasing scientific evidence indicates that (−)-epicatechin, the main flavanol in cocoa, can have a positive impact on the circulatory and cardiovascular systems. Absorption and metabolism, however, play a key role in determining the exact effect food constituents and nutrients such as (−)-epicatechin have in the body. Following absorption, nutrients are metabolized – transforming them into new compounds that are different from those originally present in food. As metabolic transformation has a significant impact on how nutrients support healthy functions, investigating this process is critical to furthering our understanding of exactly how cocoa flavanols are linked to health benefits.
While the metabolism of flavanols has been established in previous studies, the development and validation of improved analytical methods in this research enabled a far more detailed assessment than previously possible. As a result, this study was able to clearly and reliably demonstrate the extensive metabolism of (−)-epicatechin following consumption of a flavanol-containing cocoa drink. As in vitro studies using un-metabolized cocoa flavanols do not take this metabolism into account, they are not able to accurately reflect what is happening in the body. For example, early findings looking at flavanols in a test tube suggested that they exerted their benefits through an antioxidant mechanism. However, this latest research adds to a growing body of evidence challenging this notion and indicating that – when examined in the body – flavanols’ cardiovascular benefits are in fact independent of any antioxidant properties.
Commenting on the impact of this work for future research in the field, Dr. Hagen Schroeter – study author and director of fundamental health and nutrition research at Mars, Incorporated – stated: “By significantly advancing our understanding of the absorption and metabolism of cocoa flavanols, this research helps to address existing disagreement in this area and sets a new standard in flavanol analytics that will improve the scientific tools available. Furthermore, this work again calls into question the validity of in vitro research that does not take into account the extensive metabolism of compounds like (−)-epicatechin.”
“The study provides a critical step towards a more complete understanding of flavanols and their benefits and, ultimately, towards the translation of this knowledge into innovative flavanol-rich food products and concrete health recommendations,” added Dr. Schroeter.
The research has been published in the international journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine and is available for free online here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584911012548. It forms part of a wider body of collaborative research in this field and builds upon the findings of a previous paper examining flavanol absorption that was published in 2011.
About Mars, Incorporated
In 1911, Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, Washington kitchen and established Mars’ roots as a confectionery company. In the 1920s, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. joined his father in business and together they launched the MILKY WAY® bar. In 1932, Forrest, Sr. moved to the United Kingdom with a dream of building a business based on the philosophy of a “mutuality of benefits” for all stakeholders – this vision serves as the foundation of the Mars, Incorporated we are today. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has net sales of more than $30 billion and six business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, Wrigley, Food, Drinks and Symbioscience. More than 65,000 Associates worldwide are putting our Mars Principles in action every day to make a difference for people and the planet through our performance.
Science and Mars, Incorporated
Mars, Incorporated believes investment in science and technology is crucial to our success and key to addressing a wide range of social, economic, ecological and environmental challenges. We demonstrate this commitment through uncommon collaborations between academic, government, non-government and industry sectors. We are proud of our holistic approach to science and sustainability and have partnered with leading institutions on research projects such as mapping the cacao genome, understanding the role of genetics and nutrition in animal and human health, developing new approaches to complex food safety issues, and understanding the role of agroforestry in promoting biodiversity.
Flavanols are a group of natural compounds that are particularly abundant in cocoa. A significant body of published research has shown that consumption of cocoa flavanols can help support cardiovascular health by helping maintain healthy circulation. In collaboration with some of the world’s leading scientific institutes, Mars, Incorporated has been pursuing extensive research to advance understanding of cocoa flavanols for over 20 years.
Mars, Incorporated’s ongoing commitment to research in the field of cocoa flavanols is represented by the publication of over 130 scientific papers and approximately 50 patents. Using this knowledge, Mars scientists have developed a proprietary, patented Cocoapro® process that helps to retain the flavanols found naturally inside the cocoa bean, which are usually destroyed during normal processing.
For more information, please visit mars.com