"The Kuna are exposed to more (raw cacao) cocoa than anyone else on
earth, and they are living longer," said Hollenberg, who travels to the San
Blas every three months for about a week at a time. "This could reflect the
exposure to flavanoid-rich cocoa, and if it does, then this is the most
important observation since anesthesia."
On the other hand, different factors might be at work, and the observation
could turn out to be "trivial," he said. A large randomized, controlled clinical
trial is needed to determine the potential link between cocoa flavanol
consumption and cardiovascular health -- an expensive and involved
undertaking Hollenberg is not sure will happen in his lifetime.
For his part, Hollenberg is raising funds for a study to measure incidences
among the Kuna of breast cancer, cervical cancer, ischemic heart disease,
and diabetes to help confirm the differences indicated by the death
Such cocoa research may be in its infancy, but consumers will already
notice its impact on grocery store shelves. Mars Inc., which has funded
Hollenberg's rese arch both here and in the San Blas, produces a line of
flavanol-rich products called Cocoapro and CocoaVia chocolates, while
Hershey's Co. promotes Extra Dark Chocolate and Antioxidant Milk
Chocolate with "good-for-you benefits."
That doesn't mean people should overindulge in the sweet
stuff, which remains high in calories and fat, Hollenberg says.
"Chocolate is a
delight," he says,
"but it will never
be a health food."
Hometown: Winnipeg, Canada, now living in Brookline.
Family: His wife Deborah is an artist. His son David teaches Islamic Studies and Arabic
language at James Madison University, and daughter Ilana, is a former corporate lawyer.
Education: Finished high school at age 15. Earned a bachelor's degree at 18 and
graduated at 22 with M.D. from the University of Manitoba in Canada. Received his Ph.D. in
pharmacology from Manitoba and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
What he almost did: "I was a math major in college, and I actually graduated from university
when I woke up one morning with the terrifying realization that I wasn't a genius," he says. "I
had never had an original mathematical idea in my life."
Hobbies: "I'm such a bore," he says. Likes history books and fiction. Not a good vacationer.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
|... Never Be A Health Food ...?
hah! That was before
Dr Hollenberg's work was also reviewed in the Harvard Gazette that same year.
High flavanol content Raw Cacao with other
health building, metabolism boosting ingredients.
Zero health-damaging sugars. Zero artificial sweeteners.
In another big surprise, lab tests reveal that Kuna cocoa stimulates the
body to produce something called nitric oxide, a notorious compound
present in cigarette smoke and automobile exhausts. However, NO, as it
is also called, has a good side. "It turns out to be part of an internal
regulatory system that operates in the heart, blood vessels, brain, penis,
liver, pancreas, lungs, eyes, and likely every other organ in the body,"
says Thomas Michel, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
who was one of the first to recognize the wonders of NO. "It is a versatile
gas that could lead to new treatments for high blood pressure, blocked
arteries, congestive heart failure, stroke, dementia, and impotence." (See
April 2, 1993, Gazette)
To sum it up, nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels to allow an increased flow
of blood and oxygen to the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.
Hollenberg thinks that flavanols somehow activate a gene or genes that
Strokes and so-called vascular dementia involve restricted flow of blood to
the brain, so Hollenberg and others naturally regard flavanol-rich cocoa as
a possible treatment for those ills. Stroke is one of the world's major
killers, and dementias, including Alzheimer's disease, afflict 10 percent of
people over the age of 65.
One study, conducted with more than 1,300 elderly people in France, found
that flavanoids, a larger category that includes flavanols, decreased the risk
of dementia. In Holland, researchers followed 1,730 people aged 55 and
older for six years. Their results suggest that a decreased flow of blood to
the brain precedes and possibly contributes to the onset of dementia.
In the United States, investigators have linked blood flow problems to
certain brain areas of older people who rapidly progressed to Alzheimer's.
This raises the interesting possibility of turning back or slowing down both
the rise in blood pressure and the loss of cognition with age.
Hollenberg did experiments in which healthy people more than 50 years
old drank flavanol-rich cocoa. Blood flow increased in these elders just
the way it did when he did the same type of test on healthy young people.
"Among the elderly, cognitive decline is a growing public health issue with
enormous medical and financial costs. The prospect of a targeted treatment
to reverse the decline in cerebral blood flow that accompanies dementias is
extremely promising," Hollenberg told a Feb. 18 meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science during a session titled "The
Neurobiology of Chocolate: A Mind-Altering Experience."
He also described "exciting possibilities" for new types of flavanol drugs
for treating type 2 diabetes and preeclampsia, a serious condition that
affects about 7 percent of pregnant women in developed countries and
more than twice that number in some African nations. In Kuna women,
"the problem is very uncommon," Hollenberg notes.
Finally, an article in the latest issue of the International Journal of Medical
Science reports that Kuna who keep drinking cocoa in their home islands
enjoy much lower death rates from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and
cancer than those who move to mainland cities and suburbs.
Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
A big problem facing Americans and Europeans is the dangerous rise in
blood pressure with age, increasing their risk of heart disease and
diabetes. Kuna Indians living off the Caribbean coast of Panama don't
have that problem. Norman Hollenberg, a professor of radiology at
Harvard Medical School, is convinced that it's because they drink more
than five cups of cocoa a day.
Hollenberg believes cocoa may also be the answer to other serious
problems. "Several studies have shown that a decrease in blood flow to
the brain is tied to both dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and
stroke," he notes. "Increasing evidence points to heavy intake of certain
types of cocoa as an easy, inexpensive way to increase blood to the brain
and, thus, to play a role in reducing the risk of those devastating diseases."
Don't run to the beverage section of your local market right away,
however. Hollenberg's and his colleagues' experiments dealt with natural
cocoa, not varieties that have undergone extensive processing to suit
consumer tastes. The natural stuff is chock-full of ingredients called
flavanols, antioxidant compounds found in cocoa beans. Getting cocoa
out of nature and into a box on a shelf removes much of the flavanols.
Mars Inc., the candy company, is trying to close the gap with a
flavanol-rich cocoa called Cocoapro. Tests to date have found that the
equivalent of four cups of this cocoa dramatically increased blood flow to
the arms and fingers of people after only four days. Hollenberg maintains
that such an increase can help people fighting diseases ranging from high
blood pressure, hardening of arteries, and stroke to diabetes, vascular
dementia, and preeclampsia, a serious condition that affects pregnant
The roots of Hollenberg's fascination with cocoa go back to the early
1990s when he was looking for genes that might protect humans against
high blood pressure. "A logical possibility is that, if there are 'bad genes'
that predispose people to high blood pressure, there might be 'good
genes' that protect against it," he says.
To test that idea, Hollenberg needed to find an isolated, interbreeding
group of people among whom high blood pressure is uncommon and
does not rise with age. Then he could sample their blood and study how
their genes differ from those without such protection.
Such a population was known to live on a group of islands off the
Caribbean coast of Panama, where they have been relatively isolated for
more than 500 years. As it turned out, however, the plan didn't work. The
blood pressures of several hundred Kuna Indians who had moved to
Panama City and its suburbs were checked. Diet, stress, and other factors
had taken away their resistance to hypertension. So it wasn't in their
Were they eating too much salt? Hollenberg investigated that, and found
that Kuna living on both the islands and the mainland consume as much if
not more salt than people in the United States.
With funds from the Baxter Foundation, Hollenberg then conducted a
study of what the islanders eat and drink. "The most outstanding finding
was the fact that most of them consume cocoa as their major drink and do
so every day," he reports, "Many Kuna, in that hot and humid climate,
probably drink more than five cups per day."
Tests by Mars reveal Kuna cocoa to be much richer in flavanols than any
available in stores in the United States or Western Europe. That's because
of handling after harvest and processing to improve taste and appearance.
The flavanol family also has caught the world's attention as an ingredient
of red wine and some teas, and flavanols are considered to be at least
partially responsible for these beverages' reputation for lowering the risk
of heart disease and even extending life span.
Dr. Hollenberg (was) exploring
evidence that suggests a key
ingredient in cocoa beans called
flavanols may ease high blood
pressure and improve circulation. (
(Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe) By Pamela
Ferdinand, Globe Correspondent April 30, 2007
|What happens to people who eat lots of Raw Cacao?
You HAVE to read this!!
Chocolate Strategy note: Although Dr Hollenberg
hints at extracting or synthesizing cacao flavanols
to use medicinally, it would be a pity to isolate just
the flavanols and miss out on extended health
benefits of (raw) cacao as a food.
Our Raw Cacao Weight Loss Recipes and Instant Mixes
are WAY easier than moving to the San Blas Islands
Published: February 22, 2007
HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
Drinking cocoa increases blood flow to the heart, the brain, and other organs - and that's a good thing.
Cocoa shows promise as next wonder drug
Boosts blood flow to heart, brain, and other organs
By William J. Cromie, Harvard News Office
His find could be a
chocolate lover's dream
Remember Woody Allen's character in the 1973 film "Sleeper," who wakes
up 200 years in the future to find that steak, cream pies, and hot fudge are
considered healthy? Nutritionists are not quite there yet, but Dr. Norman
Hollenberg is raising hopes that the secret elixir of life may have less to do
with wheat germ and more with cocoa.
Just to be clear, Hollenberg, a Harvard Medical School professor and director
of Brigham and Women's Hospital physiologic research division, is not
advocating a diet of candy bars and cookies. He instead is exploring
preliminary evidence that suggests a key ingredient in natural cocoa beans --
antioxidants called "flavanols" -- eases high blood pressure and improves
Flavanols, also present in other foods such as onions, tea, and red wine,
might protect us from major illnesses, including heart disease, cancer,
diabetes, stroke, and neurodegenerative disease, says Hollenberg. Recent
studies, for instance, have shown that flavanols enhance brain blood flow
and improve insulin sensitivity by boosting the body's nitric oxide levels and
relaxing blood vessels.
"If this proves out, then this is the most important [finding] in the history of
medicine," he said. And he isn't joking.
Hollenberg, a burly 70-year-old who resembles Walter Cronkite with blue
eyes and a shock of white hair, did not set out to prove the upside of a
decadent palate. He doesn't even have much of a sweet tooth, preferring
fresh fruit and the occasional bite of bittersweet baker's chocolate to cakes
and ice cream.
Hollenberg's medical affair with cocoa began nearly two decades ago when
he came up with a novel question. Intent on identifying genes related to
hypertension, Hollenberg said to himself: "If God invented bad genes on a
bad day, maybe God occasionally had a good day and invented protective
To find out, he knew he had to find a geographically isolated, ethnically
homogeneous area where generations of people had low blood pressure
even in old age. The most attractive place, particularly for a middle-aged
scientist who likes to fish, turned out to be in the Caribbean off the
Panamanian coast: the San Blas Islands, home for centuries to the Kuna
The major hospital on these rocky, dry islands has had an electrocardiogram
machine for 15 years that has never diagnosed a heart attack.
He discovered , however, that Kuna who moved to the Panama mainland
experience both hypertension and heart disease. That ruled out his theory of
a protective gene. Nor did environmental factors, including stress and a diet
high in salt, explain why death certificates between 2000 and 2004 show
islanders appear to experience significantly lower death rates from heart
attacks, stroke, diabetes, and cancer than mainland Kuna.
What intrigued Hollenberg was a simple observation: the Kuna beverage of
choice. Islanders drink at least five cups of homegrown cocoa each day,
while mainland Kuna drink little or no cocoa. Unlike commercial cocoa,
which is stripped of bitter-tasting flavanols, Kuna Indians drink unprocessed
cocoa containing a highly concentrated type of flavanol known as
"epicatechin" and sweeten it with a bit of sugar. (note from Chocolate
Strategy editor: Since sugar cancels out a percentage of raw cacao's
health benefits, and since we don't have unlimited access to backyard
Theobroma Cacao trees, our best strategy is to replace the sugar with
one of Chocolate Strategy's anti-inflammatory sweeteners.
Chocolate Strategy note: Cacao flavanols are now
recognized as superior in heart protection than either red
wine or green tea.
Dr Hollenberg mentions extracting or synthesizing cacao
flavanols to use medicinally. This is now available to the
public, but much pricier than raw cacao.
And what a pity to isolate just the flavanols and skip the full
extent of raw cacao's health benefits.
|Long Story Short: Their Cardiovascular Statistics are Medically Astounding.
Extremely low incidence of
heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, blocked arteries,
congestive heart failure, diabetes, preeclampsia, Alzheimer's, certain cancers.
Reviews of Dr Hollenberg's work posted in 2007. Since then, evidence supporting
dramatic health benefits of cacao flavanols has increased impressively.
Benefits exceed the cardiovascular focus of these articles.
The easiest way to include all these health benefits in your family's diet is with
Chocolate Strategy's Raw Cacao Recipes and Tips or the Chocolate Strategy instant