A nutrient in cocoa called epicatechin appears to lower the risk of four common killer diseases, work suggests. It should be classified as a vitamin, says a Harvard expert.
The Kuna tribe of coastal Panama, who have a low incidence of high blood pressure and heart conditions, drink up to five cups of cocoa a day. This is a culture devoted to cocoa. Their practice of drinking cocoa like water has blessed them with the healthiest hearts in the world. They are able to maintain normal blood pressure as they age and experience only one-ninth the rate of heart conditions than their neighbors on the mainland who do not drink cocoa regularly.
Among the Kuna people of Panama, who can drink up to 40 cups of cocoa per week, rates of stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are less than 10%.
The Kuna also appear to live longer than other Panama inhabitants and do not get dementia, researcher Dr. Norman Hollenberg, of Harvard Medical School, reported in Chemistry and Industry.
||“For most Kuna people, it is the only thing they drink from when they are weaned to the day they die”Researcher Dr Norman Hollenberg
Dr. Hollenberg has been investigating the effects of epicatechin in hundreds of elderly people from different cultures as well as hundreds of Kuna people over the last 15 years.
“My interest began with the fact that Kuna people do not develop high blood pressure,” he explained.
|There are around 70,000 Kuna people, half living on the mainland half on Panama's San Blas islands
"I was in search of protective genes but it turned out to be environmental because, when they migrated to the mainland with all the benefits of modern Western urban life, their blood pressure rose with age and hypertension became quite common."
And death rates from ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus and cancer followed suit, his published work in the International Journal of Medical Sciences showed.
Dr Hollenberg told a reporter, "For most Kuna people, it is the only thing they drink from when they are weaned to the day they die."
He says his findings are so significant that epicatechin should be considered essential in the diet and classed as a vitamin.
One of its actions is thought to be elevating levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which helps relax the blood vessels and improves blood flow.
And its antioxidant properties could explain how it might stop cancers.
Not Just Any Cocoa; only CocoaWell
It may be diseases like cancer are the result of epicatechin deficiency. Yet, here is the rub
||COCOA The cacao tree was first cultivated in 250-900 AD by the ancient Maya civilization in what is now Mexico and Central America
The Maya offered the beans to their Gods, used them as currency and for medicinal purposes to fight fatigue and gastrointestinal distress
A typical fruit pod of the tree contains approximately 25 to 75 cocoa beans
Flavanols like epicatechin are removed for commercial cocoas because they tend to have a bitter taste. It takes real artisanship to create a flavorful cocoa that delivers full nitric oxide and antioxidant benefits.
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