Dark chocolate has been touted for its many health benefits. But this new piece of research highlights its curative rather than preventive effects. Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and VA San Diego Healthcare System [VASDHS] have found that having dark chocolate or cocoa is good for patients with advanced heart failure and type-2 diabetes as it helps improve their skeletal structure. Cocoa contains flavonoid epicatechin that does the trick.
Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy in cells. In patients of heart failure and diabetes, these cells get dysfunctional, leading to abnormalities in heart and skeletal muscle. The abnormalities in both the heart and skeletal muscle result in impaired functional capacity—a reason why these patients complain of shortness of breath, lack of energy and difficulty walking even short distances.
The trial participants consumed dark chocolate bars and a beverage with a total epicatechin content of approximately 100 mg per day for three months. After the three-month treatment, the researchers looked at changes in mitochondria volume and the abundance of cristae, which are internal compartments of mitochondria that are necessary for efficient function of the mitochondria, and measurable by electron microscopy.
“The cristae had been severely damaged and decreased in quantity in these patients,” said one of the senior investigators, Francisco J. Villarreal, MD, PhD of UC San Diego’s Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology. “After three months, we saw recovery – cristae numbers backed to normal levels, and increased several molecular indicators involved in new mitochondria production.”
The results, which mimicked earlier studies showing improvement in skeletal and heart muscle function in animal models after treatment with epicatechin, were promising enough to prompt a larger study.