Mental stress has been shown to induce cardiovascular events, likely due to its negative impact on vascular function. Flavanols, plant-derived polyphenolic compounds, improve endothelial function and blood pressure (BP) in humans, however their effects during stress are not known.
This study examined the effects of acute intake of cocoa flavanols on stress-induced changes on vascular function. In a randomised, controlled, double-blind, cross-over intervention study, 30 healthy men ingested a cocoa flavanol beverage (high-flavanol: 150 mg vs. low-flavanol < 4 mg (−)-epicatechin) 1.5 h before an 8-min mental stress task). Forearm blood flow (FBF), BP, and cardiovascular activity were assessed pre- and post-intervention, both at rest and during stress. Endothelial function (brachial flow-mediated dilatation, FMD) and brachial BP were measured before the intervention and 30 and 90 min post-stress.
FMD was impaired 30 min post-stress, yet high-flavanol cocoa attenuated this decline and remained significantly higher compared to low-flavanol cocoa at 90 min post-stress. High-flavanol cocoa increased FBF at rest and during stress. Stress-induced cardiovascular and BP responses were similar in both conditions. Flavanols are effective at counteracting mental stress-induced endothelial dysfunction and improving peripheral blood flow during stress. These findings suggest the use of flavanol-rich dietary strategies to protect vascular health during stress.