New research suggests there’s yet another reason to indulge in the occasional piece of chocolate. This time, you can thank the scientists at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine, who recently discovered that, in addition to several already-known benefits, dark chocolate can enhance skeletal muscle function.
The study, published in the journal Clinical and Translational Science, assessed chocolate’s ef fects on patients with damaged skeletal muscle mitochondria, the organelles responsible for producing energy—adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in particular—in cells. Patients were given dark chocolate bars and a beverage containing epicatechin, a flavonoid found in dark chocolate, each day for three months and were administered muscle biopsies before and after the trial.
At the end of the trial period, significant recovery was evident in all patients. Molecular indicators associated with new mitochondria production had increased; and cristae, mitochondrial components essential for efficient function, had grown back to near-normal levels.
Note that the study used dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 65% or higher, and not milk or white chocolate. Dark chocolate—the higher the cocoa content, the better—contains a high concentration of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and help protect the body from cell-damaging free radicals. In addition, flavonoids help balance hormones, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and produce nitric oxide, which, in turn, lowers blood pressure.
Chocolate also contains mood-improving serotonin and stimulates the production of endorphins, which should help with some of the guilt you’re likely to feel after eating a bar of chocolate.
REFERENCE: P. R. Taub et al., Clin Transl Sci., (5:1)43–47, 2012.