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News > Science and Tech

Coffee, Cacao Combat Chronic Heart Disease, Cancer

  • Cacao drying in Venezuela. Cacao is rich in flavonoids, 2018

    Cacao drying in Venezuela. Cacao is rich in flavonoids, 2018 | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 August 2019

Health scientists around the globe find that flavonoids may stave off cancer, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases. 

Eating flavonoids, certain nutrients found in plants, might help humans live longer, especially those who smoke and drink, according to a new study by researchers at the Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia. 


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Scientists have been discovering the health benefits of flavonoids over the past two decades. However, this study, conducted by the ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, is the first flavonoid-focused analysis to examine the diets of a certain population over the long-term. 

Researchers assessed the diets of 53,048 Danes over 23 years and found that those who consumed a certain amount of flavonoid-rich products—apples, teas, coffee and cacao—could actually be protected by these nutrients against cancer and heart disease, particularly for smokers and heavy drinkers.

Lead researcher, Dr. Nicola Bondonno, said the study found lower death rates among those who habitually ate flavonoid-rich foods, but they also discovered these flavonoids may also be able to counter some of the effects of heavy drinking and chronic smoking by protecting those who indulge against chronic non-communicable diseases—diabetes, cancer, heart disease.

“These findings are important as they highlight the potential to prevent cancer and heart disease by encouraging the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, particularly in people at high risk of these chronic diseases,” she said.

“But it’s also important to note that flavonoid consumption does not counteract all of the increased risk of death caused by smoking and high alcohol consumption. By far the best thing to do for your health is to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol.

“We know these kind of lifestyle changes can be very challenging, so encouraging flavonoid consumption might be a novel way to alleviate the increased risk, while also encouraging people to quit smoking and reduce their alcohol intake,” added the health scientist.

The group of scientists found that participants who consumed about 500mg of flavonoids per day had the lowest risk of a cancer or heart disease-related death.

“It’s important to consume a variety of different flavonoid compounds found in different plant based food and drink. This is easily achievable through the diet: one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g of blueberries, and 100g of broccoli would provide a wide range of flavonoid compounds and over 500mg of total flavonoids,” says Bondonno.

The researchers still don’t know precisely how flavonoids perform their protective work, but say it is likely “multifaceted.”

“Alcohol consumption and smoking both increase inflammation and damage blood vessels, which can increase the risk of a range of diseases,” said Dr. Bondonno to university reporters.

“Flavonoids have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and improve blood vessel function, which may explain why they are associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer,” she concluded.  

The lead doctor said the team now wants to try to found out which cancers and heart conditions that flavonoids can be most effective in fighting. 

Aalborg University Hospital, the Universities of Western Australia and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, among other institutions, were also involved in the long-term study. 

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