Scientists from Wayne State University have discovered that a compound found in chocolate, called epicatechin, seems to trigger the same muscle response as vigorous activity such as jogging.
Additionally, when small doses of chocolate are consumed in combination with regular exercise, performance is increased by 50 percent, the study found.
The researchers found that epicatechin seemed to increase the number of mitochondria, tiny powerhouses in cells that generate energy.
“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,” study leader Dr. Moh Malek at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, told the UK telegraph.
“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,” he added.
The researchers conducted their study on three groups of middle-aged mice. One group was fed a type of epicatechin from cocoa twice a day for 15 days, while another group had epicatechin and also underwent 30 minutes of treadmill training every day. A third group did the exercise but without consuming the epicatechin.
The researchers found that the group of mice that were only fed epicatechin had the same exercise performance as those running on the treadmill without consuming epicatechin. However, the mice that both exercised and consumed epicatechin showed an even greater benefit.
The scientists said they hope the study will lead to better ways of fighting 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.”
“It appears epicatechin treatment combined with exercised could be a viable means to offset muscle ageing,” said Dr. Malek.
“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.”
The study is published September 14 in the Journal of Physiology.
On the Net: