Scientists found that small amounts of dark chocolate may improve health in a similar way to exercise.The researchers focused on the mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses in cells that generate energy, and discovered that a plant compound found in chocolate, called epicatechin, appeared to stimulate the same muscle response as vigorous activity.
Dr Moh Malek, from Wayne State University in Detroit, who led the US study on mice, said: ”Mitochondria produce energy which is used by the cells in the body. More mitochondria mean more energy is produced the more work can be performed.
”Aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, is known to increase the number of mitochondria in muscle cells. Our study has found that epicatechin seems to bring about the same response – particularly in the heart and skeletal muscles.”
A specific type of epicatechin from cocoa was given to mice twice a day for 15 days.
At the same time, the animals underwent 30 minutes of treadmill training each day.
Researchers found that mice only fed epicatechin had the same exercise performance as those running on the treadmill.
The findings were published today in the Journal of Physiology.
The scientists hope their research will lead to better ways of combating age-related muscle wasting.
”The number of mitochondria decreases in skeletal muscle as we age, and this affects us physically in terms of both muscle energy production and endurance,” said Dr Malek. ”Applying what we know about epicatechin’s ability to boost mitochondria numbers may provide an approach to reduce the effects of muscle ageing.”
Middle aged mice who both exercised and ate epicatechin showed an even greater benefit.
”It appears epicatechin treatment combined with exercised could be a viable means to offset muscle ageing,” said Dr Malek.
He added: ”At the moment it would be a leap of faith to say the same effects would be seen in humans. But it is something we hope to identify in future studies.”