New Chocolate Pills Could Pack Real Health Benefits

© Stepan Popov/Getty Images

By Gillie Houston Posted August 29, 2016

The capsule contains the same amount of cocoa extract as 1,000 calories of dark chocolate.

If you need yet another reason to love chocolate, researchers have begun testing a new product that could take cocoa's health benefits to the next level. Chocolate pills—or, more scientifically: cocoa extract capsules—could be the key to getting the heart health boost of the beans without the added fat and sugar of a candy bar.

According to NPR, in recent years dark chocolate has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, as flavanols—the compounds found in cocoa—have the ability to increase blood flow. "Intake of dark chocolate is associated with a greater ability of blood vessels to dilate when they should," says Dr. David Katz of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

Despite these apparent benefits, many—including the Harvard Medical School—have pointed out that while cocoa does have health boosting properties, most chocolate is not health food. "While some observational studies have linked chocolate consumption to reductions in heart disease and dementia, they don't establish a cause-and-effect relationship," Harvard Health writes about the half-virtuous food, noting that high levels of milk fat and sugar in most chocolate bars have their own negative effects on the body. "Any benefit is thought to be due not to chocolate as such but to flavanols—bioactive compounds that occur naturally in the cocoa bean," they add.

And so a group of researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston are testing a new pill that contains the powerful cocoa compounds without the calories or fat. The team, which is currently recruiting volunteers 60 and older for a four-year trial, have created a capsule that contains the same amount of cocoa extract that would typically be found in 1,000 calories of dark chocolate.

"We'll be rigorously testing whether the cocoa flavanols do reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cognitive decline and many other conditions over time," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, who will give half the participants the real cocoa capsule, and half a placebo pill. Major candy maker Mars Inc., along with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. are providing funding for the product.

Though the chocolate pills won't taste like the milky bars you've come to know and love, researchers believe the product could provide a revolutionary holistic approach to heart health—though it will years before its fully tested, approved, and stocked on grocery store shelves. In the meantime, you'll have to get your bioactive flavenols the old-fashioned way.

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