Assessing the impact of a healthy diet in reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases, Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist at the University of Pisa in Italy, said "Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples," The researchers noted that a lot of research has already been done on the Italian Panaia red apple and its high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. For the study, the team examined whether consumption of dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil or Panaia red apple was linked to atherosclerosis - fat build-up in the artery walls - in healthy people who had cardiovascular risk factors.
26 volunteers (14 men, 12 women) with at least three cardiovascular risk factors (dyslipidaemia, smoking, hypertension or family history of heart disease) were given 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for 28 days, for the study. There were two types of chocolates used in the course of study. For 14 consecutive days it contained 10 per cent extra virgin olive oil and for 14 consecutive days it contained 2.5 per cent Panaia red apple.
Both these types of chocolates were given in random order. Progression of atherosclerosis was assessed by metabolic changes, lipid profile, blood pressure and circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPC), which are critical for vascular repair and maintenance of the cells inside blood vessels. Researchers then collected urine and blood samples at baseline and after the intervention. The Urine samples were then analysed by proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for endogenous metabolites.
After the course of 28 days, the findings revealed that the chocolate enriched with olive oil was associated with significantly increased EPC levels compared to both baseline and after consumption of apple-enriched chocolate.Olive oil-enriched chocolate was also associated with significantly increased high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol and decreased blood pressure compared to baseline. "Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our 'repairing cells', the EPC," the researchers noted. Di Stefano said, "We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile,"
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