When the Bee Gees released their classic tune, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”, I’m sure they didn’t have antioxidants in mind! Yet, they were clearly onto something when they sang “Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again”. In fact, research that we and others have conducted show a direct link between emotional and vascular health. When emotional turmoil/depression set in, chemicals are released that cause blood vessels to clamp down and blood pressure to rise. Over, time chronic stress/depression sets the stage for other unwelcome/unexpected problems that can endanger your heart.
When the Bee Gees ask, “how can you stop the sun from shining?”, the answer is that gloom and doom will inevitably follow unless effective treatment is started. Fortunately and as described in “Heal Your Heart” many stress reducing tools are not only available but are also backed up with scientific evidence. These tools may not only help to prevent a cardiovascular event but can also improve vascular health!
Along these lines, a new study has found that in addition to stress-reducing activities, consuming high levels of powerful antioxidants known as “flavanols” produce a similar effect. These plant-based micronutrients (or polyphenols) are among 6 subgroups derived from flavonoids (the other 5 are: anthocyanins, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, flavones and isoflavones).
In the new study, volunteers drank a cocoa beverage that contained a high content (680 mg) or low content (4 mg) of flavanols on 2 separate days. Not only did the high flavanol drink lead to greater expansion of blood vessels (compared to the low flavanol drink) but it also reduced their blood vessels from clamping down after they were subjected to mental stress testing.
Bottom Line: This study supports incorporating plant-derived and powerful antioxidant flavanols as an important heart health strategy to protect your blood vessels from their daily stressors.
In addition to cocoa/cacao containing products that are high in flavanols, I recommend that my patients incorporate other sources of flavanols to enrich their heart and overall health: They include apples, apricots, beans, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, chives, cranberries, kale, leeks, pear, onions, red grapes, sweet cherries, and white currants.
Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.