Drinking hot chocolate could help people over 60 stay on their feet after a study showing that cocoa increases blood circulation in the legs.
Those who drank a cup of cocoa three times a day for six months were able to walk significantly further on a walk test at the end of the study.
Cocoa is abundant in a compound called epicatechin, also present in dark chocolate.
Researchers think it is epicatechin that can improve the blood flow to the calves of the participants, allowing them to travel the extra distance.
The study was conducted on people with the common peripheral artery disease or “PAD” which is a narrowing of the arteries.
A fifth of the over 60s in the UK have some degree of PAD, which causes pain, tightness and cramps in the leg muscles while walking.
Drinking hot chocolate could help people over 60 stay on their feet after a study suggesting that cocoa improves blood circulation in the legs, the study shows
Commenting on the results, Professor Mary McDermott of Northwestern University of Chicago in the United States said: “There are few therapies available to improve walking performance in people with PAD.”
Dr Naomi Hamburg, president of the American Heart Association Council for Peripheral Vascular Diseases, added: ‘Patients with PAD have difficulty walking, as badly as people with advanced heart failure.
‘The leg muscles don’t get enough blood flow into the PAD which leads to injury and in this study, cocoa appears to protect the muscle and improve metabolism.
“We know that physical therapy helps people with PAD to walk farther, and this initial study suggests that cocoa could prove to be a new way of treating people with PAD.
“We will need larger studies to confirm whether cocoa is an effective treatment for PAD, but perhaps one day, if research supports it, we may be able to write a chocolate prescription for our PAD patients. “
The study involved 44 patients with PAD over the age of 60.
Study participants were randomly assigned to drink a cup of cocoa or a packet of cocoa-free placebo powder three times a day for six months.
The cocoa was sugar free and contained 15 grams of cocoa and 75 mg of epicatechin.
Walking performance was measured at the start of the study and at six months. Participants walked up and down a corridor for six minutes.
The test was performed twice, two and a half hours and 24 hours after drinking the drink. They also did a test on the treadmill.
Participants also measured blood flow to their legs using magnetic resonance imaging and those who consented had a calf muscle biopsy to assess muscle health.
Cocoa drinkers were able to walk up to 42.6 meters further in the six-minute walk test which ended at the end of the six-month study.
But patients who drank the placebo drink experienced a 24.2-meter drop in the distance traveled at the end of the six-month period.
The authors said that cocoa flavanols, including epicatechin, found in dark chocolate, have “therapeutic properties that can improve walking performance in people with PAD”.
The finding has been consistent with other studies, in which patients with PAD experience deterioration in the distance traveled over time if they are not treated.
The team also discovered other improvements in muscle health: increases in both mitochondrial activity, which helps cells convert energy from food, and capillary density, a vital factor in providing oxygen to tissues during exercise, have been observed. .
Professor McDermott said: ‘If our results are confirmed in a larger study, these results suggest that cocoa, a relatively inexpensive, safe and accessible product, could potentially produce significant improvements in calf muscle health, blood flow. and gait performance for patients with PAD. ‘
The researchers pointed out that ordinary chocolate – often loaded with sugar – shouldn’t have the same effect as the cocoa they used, which is commonly available.
The study was published today in the American Heart Association’s Circulation Research journal.
WHAT IS PERIPHERAL ARTERIAL DISEASE?
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition in which the leg arteries constrict and restrict blood flow.
The condition is generally caused by an accumulation of fatty deposits like cholesterol on the inner lining of the blood vessels.
Acquired from the diet, these fats attach to the artery wall and narrow the space through which the blood can travel, increasing blood pressure, reducing the flow of oxygen and making it more likely that someone develops gangrene or has a heart attack or stroke.
About 200 million people worldwide have PAD and it is more common in the elderly, with one in five over 60 in the UK.
Symptoms are slow to develop and some people don’t notice them, but the main one is to feel painful leg pain that can disappear when resting.
Leg pain is not necessarily a normal sign or aging and people should consult a doctor if their continues to return.
Others could include:
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Hair loss on legs and feet
- Brittle and slow-growing toenails
- Ulcers (open sores) on feet and legs, which do not heal
- Change the color of the skin on the legs, such as becoming pale or blue
- Shiny skin
- Erectile dysfunction
PAD is more likely in patients who smoke or have diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol.
The condition is treated with medications such as statins and through lifestyle changes such as weight loss, quitting smoking, exercising more and eating healthily.