According to new research, substances in tea, cocoa and fruit could have a hand in helping healthy individuals maintain good cardiovascular health as they grow older.

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers showed that healthy, middle-aged individuals who drank two drinks rich in flavanol every day had lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels compared with a group that consumed the same beverages sans flavanols. The participants were not informed whether they were drinking beverages with flavanol or not but were instructed to eat as they normally would for a month.

The powdered drinks used in the study were provided by Mars and contained flavanols derived from fresh cocoa beans. Flavanols, however, can also be found in pomegranates, pears, apples and tea.

This was one of the first times that a study involving flavanols explored the effects of the compound on healthy individuals, according to Christian Heiss from the University Hospital Düsseldorf. Typically, earlier research focused on people with high cholesterol or blood pressure to determine how flavanol affects their conditions.

There were 105 participants for the study, aged between 35 and 60 years old. All consumed two beverages each day by mixing the provided powder with 500 ml of water. Those who were assigned to drink beverages with flavanol had 450mg of the compound for every serving.

Based on the results, the researchers saw modest benefits to cardiovascular health for those who consumed two flavanol drinks a day. Specifically, they found the flavanol group registered a drop of 4 percent for cholesterol levels and 3 percent in blood pressure. To achieve this, flavanol appeared to have improved the blood vessels' ability to constrict and widen, facilitating blood flow around the body.

The researchers also suggest that these figures translated to lowered risks of heart attacks, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease over a course of 10 years. This must be taken with caution, however, because it is difficult to infer health conditions over a 10-year period from just a month's worth of data.

Still, while the effects of consuming flavanol drinks every day may be small, there is undeniable benefit in preventing cardiovascular conditions from developing, most especially when there are no side effects reported.

Photo: Connie Ma | Flickr

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