Mars, the company that made its fortune satisfying chocolate cravings, unveiled plans on Monday to develop medications that use a component of cocoa to help treat diabetes, strokes and vascular disease.
The privately held U.S. company that produces M&Ms and Mars bars said it hoped to make medications based on flavanols — plant chemicals with health benefits found in cocoa, as well as red wine and green tea.
Mars said it is in talks with large pharmaceutical companies for a licensing or joint venture agreement to reproduce the compounds in cocoa shown to improve blood flow.
“The mounting scientific evidence is extraordinary,” said Dr. Norm Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, which has collaborated with Mars on cocoa research.
“This is a scientific breakthrough that could well lead to a medical breakthrough.”
Hollenberg was chairing a two-day seminar with 20 science and medical experts in Switzerland to discuss the newest research on cocoa’s potential health benefits.
The specific cocoa flavanol molecules responsible for a blood-thinning aspirin-like effect have been identified for the first time, Mars said.
Two clinical trials have also found that cocoa flavanols can boost the flow of blood to key areas of the brain, raising the possibility of treatments for dementia and strokes.
A new clinical study has shown flavanols’ ability to improve synthesis of nitric oxide by blood vessels could aid treatment of vascular complications associated with long-term diabetes.
Mars has already launched CocoaVia, a nutrition bar containing 80 calories and specially preserved flavanols, which usually get destroyed in cocoa processing.
The chocolate industry had to rid its products of a junk food image and highlight cocoa’s healthier qualities to encourage demand for a produce mainly grown by poor African farmers, industry experts said at a conference in Malaysia last week.