Page updated Feb 19, 2019. First published Sep 23, 2013. 1 comment
Cocoa bean extract (of the ‘chocolate fame’) is one such promising agent that can help reduce body weight (and fight metabolic disease). We ask how much of it is myth and how much is the truth. Let us have a closer look at what cocoa bean extract is and how it works its magic.
In the last few decades, a rapid rise in the incidence of human obesity has been observed. Researchers blame chronic imbalances in energy equation (calories consumed against calories expended) for the ‘epidemic’ (of obesity) (Spiegelman & Flier, 2001; Wang, Beydoun, Liang, Caballero, & Kumanyika, 2008). A particular worry is the exponential rise in the incidence; at current pace, it is surmised that by 2030, 86% of the adult American population would be overweight (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, & Curtin, 2010; Wang et al., 2008)!
Also worrying is the fact that obesity has been identified as a major causal factor in development of metabolic conditions – cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus and cancer, to name a few (Furukawa et al., 2004).
In the backdrop of identification of such health risks of obesity, treatment and indeed prevention of obesity has become a major issue for all government policies.
Although increase in physical activity combined with dietary restriction is the best strategy to combat obesity, it doesn’t have many takers – especially, due to lack of compliance. Pharmacological treatment – using drugs or food supplements – has, therefore taken precedence. Drugs or agents that interfere with intestinal absorption of carbohydrates and fats present in ingested foods form a big part of pharmacological management of obesity.
What is Cocoa Bean Extract?
Cocoa bean extract, as the name suggests is derived from cocoa beans (known scientifically as Theobroma cacao). It is packed with polyphenols (Gu, Hurst, Stuart, & Lambert, 2011) which have health-improving roles for humans. According to an estimate, almost 12-18% of dry weight of cocoa bean extract is made up of polyphenols (Gu et al., 2011; KIM & KEENEY, 1984). The chief polyphenols present in cocoa bean extract are epicatechin and catechin (Gu et al., 2011).
The process of fermenting (during commercial production of cocoa bean extract), however, reduces the flavanols and polyphenol content. Unfermented cocoa (Lavado cocoa) contains the highest levels of polyphenols. Roasting, grinding and Dutch-processing (alkalinisation) of cocoa bean forms the basis of cocoa present in chocolate. However, all this processing takes away as much as 90% of the flavonols and polyphenols (Miller et al., 2008; Gu et al., 2011).
How does Cocoa Bean Extract Reduce Body Weight?
Cocoa bean extracts shares its mode of action with other weight-reducing agents like orlistat (Gu et al., 2011; Rossner, Sjostrom, Noack, Meinders, & Noseda, 2000).
Cocoa bean causes:
Inhibition of enzymes like pancreatic ?-amylase, pancreatic lipase and pancreatic phospholipase A2 (Gu et al., 2011; Rossner et al., 2000; Lowe, 1994)
These enzymes (as the names suggest) are responsible for breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates and fats (Damager, Numao, Chen, Brayer, & Withers, 2004; Lowe, 1994)
The inhibition of these enzymes by cocoa bean extract, thus reduces the absorption of carbs and fats present in ingested foods; this helps in reducing body weight
Additionally, the reduction of absorption of carbs and fats by cocoa bean extract has also been shown to be of benefit in diabetes mellitus and other metabolic diseases (Gu et al., 2011).
Also, there aren’t too many reported adverse effects to the use of cocoa bean extract.
Evidence in Favour of Cocoa Bean Extracts
Although not many human clinical trials have been conducted, evidence from animal studies seems to suggest that cocoa bean extract does cause weight loss.
A study conducted by Ruzaidi and his colleagues reported that cocoa bean extract causes weight loss in a dose dependant manner (Ruzaidi, Amin, Nawalyah, Hamid, & Faizul, 2005)
Matsui et al. reported that supplementation with cocoa bean extract showed weight-loss in fat-fed rats (Matsui et al., 2005)
Gu and colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University have recently provided evidence that cocoa extract is indeed a potent inhibitor of key enzymes of carbohydrate and fat digestion and may help in reduction of body weight (Gu et al., 2011)
In addition to preventing the onset of (or treating) obesity, supplementation with cocoa bean extract has other health benefits as well – useful in type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Animal studies (Cooper, Donovan, Waterhouse, & Williamson, 2008; Matsui et al., 2005; Ruzaidi et al., 2005; Tomaru et al., 2007; Jalil, Ismail, Pei, Hamid, & Kamaruddin, 2008; Gu et al., 2011)have shown that cocoa bean extract normalises blood chemistry – glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels .
Verdict on Cocoa Bean Extract
Prima facie evidence from animal studies seems to suggest that cocoa bean extract does cause weight-loss. What’s more, there are other health benefits to be had as well.
In view of these positives and lack of adverse effects, Diet Pills Watchdog does consider cocoa bean extract effective and safe as an weight-reducing supplement ingredient.
Cooper, K. A., Donovan, J. L., Waterhouse, A. L., & Williamson, G. (2008). Cocoa and health: a decade of research. Br.J Nutr., 99, 1-11.
Damager, I., Numao, S., Chen, H., Brayer, G. D., & Withers, S. G. (2004). Synthesis and characterisation of novel chromogenic substrates for human pancreatic alpha-amylase. Carbohydr.Res., 339, 1727-1737.
Flegal, K. M., Carroll, M. D., Ogden, C. L., & Curtin, L. R. (2010). Prevalence and trends in obesity among US adults, 1999-2008. JAMA, 303, 235-241.
Furukawa, S., Fujita, T., Shimabukuro, M., Iwaki, M., Yamada, Y., Nakajima, Y. et al. (2004). Increased oxidative stress in obesity and its impact on metabolic syndrome. J Clin Invest, 114, 1752-1761.
Gu, Y., Hurst, W. J., Stuart, D. A., & Lambert, J. D. (2011). Inhibition of key digestive enzymes by cocoa extracts and procyanidins. J Agric.Food Chem., 59, 5305-5311.
Jalil, A. M., Ismail, A., Pei, C. P., Hamid, M., & Kamaruddin, S. H. (2008). Effects of cocoa extract on glucometabolism, oxidative stress, and antioxidant enzymes in obese-diabetic (Ob-db) rats. J Agric.Food Chem., 56, 7877-7884.
KIM, H. & KEENEY, P. G. (1984). (-)-Epicatechin Content in Fermented and Unfermented Cocoa Beans. Journal of Food Science, 49, 1090-1092.
Lowe, M. E. (1994). Pancreatic triglyceride lipase and colipase: insights into dietary fat digestion. Gastroenterology, 107, 1524-1536.
Matsui, N., Ito, R., Nishimura, E., Yoshikawa, M., Kato, M., Kamei, M. et al. (2005). Ingested cocoa can prevent high-fat diet-induced obesity by regulating the expression of genes for fatty acid metabolism. Nutrition, 21, 594-601.
Miller, K. B., Hurst, W. J., Payne, M. J., Stuart, D. A., Apgar, J., Sweigart, D. S. et al. (2008). Impact of alkalization on the antioxidant and flavanol content of commercial cocoa powders. J Agric.Food Chem., 56, 8527-8533.
Rossner, S., Sjostrom, L., Noack, R., Meinders, A. E., & Noseda, G. (2000). Weight loss, weight maintenance, and improved cardiovascular risk factors after 2 years treatment with orlistat for obesity. European Orlistat Obesity Study Group. Obes Res., 8, 49-61.
Ruzaidi, A., Amin, I., Nawalyah, A. G., Hamid, M., & Faizul, H. A. (2005). The effect of Malaysian cocoa extract on glucose levels and lipid profiles in diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol., 98, 55-60.
Spiegelman, B. M. & Flier, J. S. (2001). Obesity and the regulation of energy balance. Cell, 104, 531-543.
Tomaru, M., Takano, H., Osakabe, N., Yasuda, A., Inoue, K., Yanagisawa, R. et al. (2007). Dietary supplementation with cacao liquor proanthocyanidins prevents elevation of blood glucose levels in diabetic obese mice. Nutrition, 23, 351-355.
Wang, Y., Beydoun, M. A., Liang, L., Caballero, B., & Kumanyika, S. K. (2008). Will all Americans become overweight or obese? estimating the progression and cost of the US obesity epidemic. Obesity (Silver.Spring), 16, 2323-2330.
About the author: Rachel Butler
Rachel has been with us since we launched back in 2012.
Rachel has reviewed countless products over the years, and has written many articles offering sound advice. Her professional opinions are widely respected.
Rachel graduated a BSc in Clinical Science from the University of Leicester, U.K.
She lives in York with her husband and young daughter and their dog, a little terrier named Betsy.
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