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Evidence from clinical studies has suggested that cocoa may increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol concentrations. However, it is unclear whether this effect is attributable to flavonoids or theobromine, both of which are major cocoa components. We investigated whether pure theobromine increases serum HDL cholesterol and whether there is an interaction effect between theobromine and cocoa. The study had a 2-center, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, full factorial parallel design. After a 2-wk run-in period, 152 healthy men and women (aged 40-70 y) were randomly allocated to consume one 200-mL drink/d for 4 wk that contained 1) cocoa, which naturally provided 150 mg theobromine and 325 mg flavonoids [cocoa intervention (CC)], 2) 850 mg pure theobromine [theobromine intervention (TB)], 3) cocoa and added theobromine, which provided 1000 mg theobromine and 325 mg flavonoids [theobromine and cocoa intervention (TB+CC)], or 4) neither cocoa nor theobromine (placebo). Blood lipids and apolipoproteins were measured at the start and end of interventions. In a 2-factor analysis, there was a significant main effect of the TB (P < 0.0001) but not CC (P = 0.1288) on HDL cholesterol but no significant interaction (P = 0.3735). The TB increased HDL-cholesterol concentrations by 0.16 mmol/L (P < 0.0001). Furthermore, there was a significant main effect of the TB on increasing apolipoprotein A-I (P < 0.0001) and decreasing apolipoprotein B and LDL-cholesterol concentrations (P < 0.02). Theobromine independently increased serum HDL-cholesterol concentrations by 0.16 mmol/L. The lack of significant cocoa and interaction effects suggested that theobromine may be the main ingredient responsible for the HDL cholesterol-raising effect. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01481389.

Citation

Nicole Neufingerl, Yvonne E M P Zebregs, Ewoud A H Schuring, Elke A Trautwein. Effect of cocoa and theobromine consumption on serum HDL-cholesterol concentrations: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2013 Jun;97(6):1201-9

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PMID: 23595874

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