Dark chocolate boosts muscle function in heart disease and diabetes patients

This holiday season, go ahead and indulge in a little piece of chocolate. Just make sure it’s dark chocolate. And the darker, the better.

According to a new study, eating dark chocolate may improve the functioning of your mitochondria. And as you’ll remember from yesterday’s Daily Dispatch article , mitochondria are your cells’ energy factories. They also help you maintain your muscles.

But, as I pointed out yesterday, these important structures stop working well in unhealthy, obese men and women. We also see poor mitochondrial function in men and women who have Type II diabetes and advanced heart disease. And this problem leads to abnormalities in skeletal muscles. In fact, people with this condition often complain of shortness of breath and lack of energy. They also have difficulty walking even short distances.

In the new study, researchers recruited patients with advanced heart disease and Type II diabetes. They all had major damage to the mitochondria in their skeletal muscles.

Now get this…

Each day for three months, the patients consumed dark chocolate and beverages made with natural cocoa powder that contained 100 mg of epicatechin. A powerful flavanol found in dark chocolate, epicatechin combats chronic inflammation. And it also appears to support mitochondrial function.

The researchers wanted to see if following this dark chocolate regimen could actually improve muscle function on the cellular level. So, at the study’s outset, they took biopsies from the subjects’ quad muscles. Then, they took another set of biopsies at the end of the three-month study.

This cross-over design allowed each patient to act as his or her own control. In addition, researchers obtained biopsies from healthy men for further comparison.

The initial biopsies showed that these heart disease patients suffered from what we could describe as a state of “acquired muscular dystrophy.” Their muscles were just barely functioning. But, after three months of chocolate therapy, the patients increased their molecular markers of muscle growth and regeneration. They also showed enhanced muscle cell function.

The researchers concluded that dark chocolate helps the mitochondria in your muscle cells recover. And this allows muscle regeneration to take place.

As we know, muscles can regenerate. Whether it’s in your heart or your muscular-skeletal system. But your mitochondria are the key.

Interestingly, the subjects also significantly improved their HDL (good) cholesterol levels. And they improved their brain peptide levels as well.

So, as I said above, this holiday season, go ahead and indulge in a little dark chocolate. Just remember, it has to be dark, without added milk and sugar. It may help keep your mitochondria firing on full throttle. And you don’t even need a prescription for it.

If you’re looking for a brand to trust, I recommend Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate. It features 60% cacao chocolate.  And specialty dark chocolates range up to 65% to 80% cacao.


1. “Alterations in Skeletal Muscle Indicators of Mitochondrial Structure and Biogenesis in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Failure: Effects of Epicatechin Rich Cocoa,” Clin Trans Sci 2012; Volume 5: 43–47