Give people with diabetes-2 and heart problems a large lump of chocolate every day, and their muscle cells will start to function better. According to a small study done at the University of California, San Diego, after three months, the patients looked as though they'd been training.
The muscle and heart cells of people with heart problems and diabetes-2 are in bad condition. An accumulation of molecular faults means their mitochondria can no longer function as they should, and the cells are no longer capable of generating enough energy.
The researchers looked at whether they could do anything to help this by administering a cacao supplement. Cacao contains the compound shown here: (-)-epicatechin. This compound, possibly in combination with other substances in cacao, stimulates the mitochondria’s energy generation. Animal studies have shown the compound to be a veritable exercise substitute – but one that works even better in combination with real physical exertion.
Does (-)-epicatechin do this in humans too? To find out the researchers gave five patients – don't be alarmed – almost 400 calories of chocolate in the form of four chunks of chocolate and two 'cocoa research beverages'. This calorie bomb provided 100 mg epicatechin daily.
Whether the subjects' pants still fitted after three months on the cacao supplement the researchers do not divulge. They do say though that the subjects' muscle cells had changed considerably. The amount of NO – measured in the form of nitrates and nitrite – had increased considerably. The same was true for the production of the PGC1-alpha protein.
PGC1alpha induces cells to produce more mitochondria, and stimulates their development. And what may be of interest to life extensionists is the fact that the cacao supplement also activated the 'methuselah enzyme' SIRT1.
The mitochondria changed shape: they became more compact. The photos on the left above show a mitochondrion of one the subjects. One photo was taken before the cacao supplementation started, the other afterwards. As you can see, the mitochondria develop more cristae. If we liken a mitochondrion to a factory, then it would mean that there are more machines in the factory.
The study doesn't say whether the subjects actually became fitter, but going by the results you would expect that they did. Everything seems to indicate that the ability of subjects' muscle cells to convert nutrients into energy increased.
It won't be long before Tour de France medal winners are no longer sponsored by manufacturers of substances that improve oxygen transport medicines against cancer, but by Mars and Côte d'Or. And by The Hershey Company [hersheys.com], of course – which helped finance the study.
Clin Transl Sci. 2012 Feb;5(1):43-7.