Many epidemiological studies have shown that polyphenols can reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular diseases. This study tested the hypothesis that cacao liquor polyphenols have the properties to restore the cardiovascular and autonomic nervous function in an animal model of familial hypercholesterolaemia. Male Kurosawa and Kusanagi-hypercholesterolaemic rabbits were housed in individual cages in a room where a 12-hr light:dark cycle (lights-on at 8:00 and lights-off at 20:00) was maintained. At 3 months of age, they were divided into two groups (standard diet and cacao liquor polyphenol) and the animals received 100 g of the respective diets per day and were provided with tap water ad libitum. Heart rate and blood pressure were measured by a telemetry system. To clarify the autonomic nervous function, power spectral analysis of heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity and autonomic nervous tone were measured. After 6 months of dietary administration of cacao liquor polyphenols, heart rate and blood pressure were lowered but plasma lipid concentrations were unchanged. The area of atherosclerotic lesions in the aorta in the cacao liquor polyphenol group was significantly smaller than that in the standard diet group. The high-frequency power of heart rate variability in the rabbits in the standard diet group was significantly decreased with ageing, but that in the cacao liquor polyphenol group was not different between short-term and long-term treatment. Moreover, cacao liquor polyphenols preserved parasympathetic nervous tone, although that in the standard diet group was significantly decreased with ageing. We conclude that cacao liquor polyphenols may play an important role to protect cardiovascular and autonomic nervous functions.
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