Scientists advance field of research with publication of newly validated method for analyzing flavanols in cocoa

April 24th, 2012
A method for the analysis of flavanols in cocoa has been developed by a team of researchers from Mars Botanical, a scientific division of Mars, Incorporated, and recently published in the Journal of AOAC International. Drawing on the research team's expertise in flavanol chemistry and analytics, the method identifies and quantifies the distinct stereochemical forms of flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate products. Foods rich in flavanols are increasingly recognized for their ability to exert positive effects on the cardiovascular system, but investigations have shown that the distinct chemical structure (stereochemistry) of a flavanol influences its absorption, metabolism, and consequently its ability to exert beneficial effects. This validated method could therefore have important implications for future investigations.

"By clearly identifying the specific stereochemical forms of flavanols in cocoa, this method can help establish stronger connections between cocoa flavanols and cardiovascular health. Our goal was not only to develop a method that could be used by Mars, but instead to validate one that could be widely implemented using standard analytical equipment in order to advance research in this field," commented Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, study author and R&D Director at Mars Botanical.

Flavanols are a group of natural compounds that can be particularly abundant in cocoa and are also found in foods such as grapes, apples, and tea. Data from epidemiological studies and dietary interventions demonstrate that flavanol-rich foods can have a positive impact on cardiovascular function and health. Importantly, however, the flavanols in foods have different stereochemical forms, specifically (–)-epicatechin and (+)-epicatechin, and (–)-catechin and (+)-catechin. Some of these forms, notably (–)-catechin and (+)-epicatechin, are present in foods almost exclusively as a result of food processing.

However, these stereochemical changes are more than just interesting chemical conversions. Previous research has identified (–)-epicatechin as a critical, biologically active component of cocoa that is capable of mediating improvements in cardiovascular function. A collaborative study published in January 2011 by researchers from the University of California, Davis and Mars, Incorporated went one step further and revealed the crucial importance of flavanol stereochemistry. Specifically, the 2011 study highlights that, of the stereochemical forms of epicatechin and catechin, (−)-epicatechin is the most absorbed by the body – almost six times more than (–)-catechin. This clear demonstration of the profound impact of stereochemistry on flavanol absorption reinforces the need to identify and quantify the exact flavanol forms present in foods when considering their cardiovascular health impact. The recently published Journal of AOAC International paper provides a validated method for exactly this.

"This newly validated method addresses important gaps in our knowledge. In particular, it helps improve our understanding of the impact of food processing on the flavanol content of foods such as cocoa – a crucial step towards the development of optimized food products to support health", commented Dr. Kwik-Uribe. "What's more, by identifying which flavanols are actually in the foods we eat, methods such as this enable a more detailed look at epidemiological studies and intervention trials. This brings us closer to being able to provide meaningful dietary recommendations."

The method has been published in the Journal of AOAC International. This research was conducted by a team of researchers from Mars Botanical, a scientific division of Mars, Incorporated, and forms part of a wider body of work examining cocoa flavanols, their chemistry and benefits to health.

Provided by Mars Symbioscience

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