Cocoa ‘vitamin’ health benefits could outshine penicillin

The health benefits of epicatechin, a compound found in cocoa, are so striking that it may rival penicillin and anaesthesia in terms of importance to public health, reports Marina Murphy in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI. Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told C&I that epicatechin is so important that it should be considered a vitamin.

Hollenberg has spent years studying the benefits of cocoa drinking on the Kuna people in Panama. He found that the risk of 4 of the 5 most common killer diseases: stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes, is reduced to less then 10% in the Kuna. They can drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week. Natural cocoa has high levels of epicatechin.

‘If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine,’ Hollenberg says. ‘We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the western world, how important does that make epicatechin?… I would say very important’

Nutrition expert Daniel Fabricant says that Hollenberg’s results, although observational, are so impressive that they may even warrant a rethink of how vitamins are defined. Epicatechin does not currently meet the criteria. Vitamins are defined as essential to the normal functioning, metabolism, regulation and growth of cells and deficiency is usually linked to disease. At the moment, the science does not support epicatechin having an essential role. But, Fabricant, who is vice president scientific affairs at the Natural Products Association, says: ‘the link between high epicatechin consumption and a decreased risk of killer disease is so striking, it should be investigated further. It may be that these diseases are the result of epicatechin deficiency,’ he says.

Currently, there are only 13 essential vitamins. An increase in the number of vitamins would provide significant opportunity for nutritional companies to expand their range of products. Flavanols like epicatechin are removed for commercial cocoas because they tend to have a bitter taste. So there is huge scope for nutritional companies to develop epicatechin supplements or capsules

Epicatechin is also found in teas, wine, chocolate and some fruit and vegetables.

From Society of Chemical Industry

4 COMMENTS

  1. The obvious question that must be asked is: What justification does Hollenberg have for attributing the benefits to epicatechin?

    Surely the Kuna have hundeds of lifestyle and environmental differences. Why does Hollenberg jump to the conclusion that it’s the cocoa that makes the difference? Why do the journalists, including the BBC, not even raise this question?

    Even the BBC is lazy!

  2. This was reported some time ago in the BBC News, a report of a study only concerned with those commercial grade cocoas … which STILL came out ahead of tea and wine:

    In 1998, a study of more than 8,000 Americans found chocolate, which is made from cocoa, may even extend life.

    They are all rich in polyphenols, chemicals that have an antioxidant effect on the body.

    This means they can “mop up” free radicals – charged particles, produced by the body, which can damage cells and trigger diseases like cancer.

    Dr Chang Yong Lee and colleagues at Cornell University in New York carried out tests to measure antioxidants levels in tea, red wine and cocoa.

    A cup of cocoa came out on top. Their study found it was twice as rich in antioxidants as a glass of red wine, up to three times richer than a cup of green tea and up to five times richer than black tea.

    Although cocoa is found in many other products, such as chocolate, the researchers said drinking it was the best way of harnessing its health benefits.
    [ BBC NEWS | Health | Cup of cocoa may keep doctor away ]

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