The interest in cacao flavanols is still growing, as bioactive compounds with potential benefits in the prevention of chronic diseases associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and metabolic disorders. Several analytical methodologies support that the flavanols in cacao-derived products can be absorbed, have bioactive properties, and thus can be responsible for their beneficial effects on human health. However, it must be considered that their biological actions and underlying molecular mechanisms will depend on the concentrations achieved in their target tissues. Based on the antioxidant properties of cacao flavanols, this review focuses on recent advances in research regarding their potential to improve metabolic syndrome risk factors. Additionally, it has included other secondary plant metabolites that have been investigated for their protective effects against metabolic syndrome. Studies using laboratory animals or human subjects represent strong available evidence for biological effects of cacao flavanols. Nevertheless, in vitro studies are also included to provide an overview of these phytochemical mechanisms of action. Further studies are needed to determine if the main cacao flavanols or their metabolites are responsible for the observed health benefits and which are their precise molecular mechanisms.
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