The endothelium is the inner lining of the arterial blood vessels. An artery with healthy endothelium is able to dilate, or widen, when increased blood flow is needed. This process is known as flow-mediated dilation or FMD. FMD is dependent on the ability of the endothelium to release nitric oxide (NO), a compound produced by the body that causes the endothelium and the blood vessels to relax and contract to facilitate the healthy flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the body as needed. Endothelial dysfunction is associated with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, and often increases with age.
Previous studies show that dietary consumption of cocoa flavanols play a role in the body’s production of nitric oxide, which is important to the health of the cardiovascular and circulatory system.
Many of these studies looked at people who had a history of heart disease or were at high risk for heart disease (vascular dysfunction). Further investigation is required in order to understand how cocoa flavanols may impact the cardiovascular system in health adults and if cocoa flavanols can help people stay healthier, longer.