A cup of hot chocolate a day could keep the doctor away:
‘Cocoa boosts blood circulation in legs and helps keep over 60s on their feet’
Over 60s drank a mug of flavanol-rich cocoa three times a day for six months
They were able to walk significantly further in a walking test at the end
Researchers think the cocoa improved blood flow to participants’ calves
Drinking hot chocolate could help over 60s stay on their feet after a study shows cocoa boosts blood circulation in the legs.
Those who drank a mug of cocoa three times a day for six months were able to walk significantly further in a walking test at the end of the study. Cocoa is abundant in a compound called epicatechin, also found in dark chocolate.
Researchers think it’s epicatechin that may improve blood flow to participants’ calves, allowing them to go the extra distance. The study was done on people with the common peripheral artery disease or ‘PAD,’ which is a narrowing of the arteries.
A fifth of people over 60 in the UK have some degree of PAD, causing pain, tightness and cramping in leg muscles while walking.
Commenting on the findings, study author Professor Mary McDermott, at Northwestern University in Chicago, US, said: ‘Few therapies are available for improving walking performance in people with PAD.’
Dr Naomi Hamburg, chair of the American Heart Association’s Peripheral Vascular Disease Council, added: ‘Patients with PAD have difficulty walking that is as bad as people with advanced heart failure. ‘Leg muscles don’t get enough blood supply in PAD leading to injury and in this study, cocoa appeared to be protecting the muscle and improving metabolism. We know that exercise therapy helps people with PAD walk farther, and this early study suggests that cocoa may turn out to be a new way to treat people with PAD.
The study involved 44 PAD patients over the age of 60. Study participants were randomly assigned to drink either a mug of cocoa or a placebo powder packet without cocoa three times daily over six months. The cocoa was unsweetened and contained 15 grams of cocoa and 75 mgs of epicatechin. Walking performance was measured at the beginning of the study and at six months. Participants walked up and down a corridor for six minutes.
The cocoa drinkers were able to walk up to 42.6 metres further in the final six-minute walking test completed at the end of the six-month study. But patients who drank the placebo beverage suffered a 24.2 metre decline in their walking distance at the end of the six-month period.
The team also discovered other improvements to muscle health – boosts were observed in both mitochondrial activity, which helps cells to convert the energy from food, and capillary density, a vital factor in delivering oxygen to tissues during exercise. The researchers highlighted that regular chocolate – often laden with sugar – would not be expected to have the same effect as the cocoa they used, which is commonly available.