Cocoa found to ease walking pain in people with PAD

February 18, 2020

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) patients are able to walk slightly further if they drank a beverage containing flavanol-rich cocoa three times a day for six months, compared to those who drank the same number/type of beverage without cocoa; the test patients had improved blood flow to their calves and some improved muscle function as well. Walking performance is usually poor in people with PAD, as they suffer from reduced blood flow from the heart to the legs, due to narrowed arteries. Pain, tightness, cramping, weakness, or other discomfort in leg muscles are therefore common when walking.

Mary McDermott, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Feinberg) in Chicago, US, said people with PAD have been shown to have damaged mitochondria in their calf muscles, which may be the root of the walking problem.

“Previous research has shown that better mitochondrial health and activity are associated with better walking performance and improving the health of damaged mitochondria could lead to walking improvements.”

The Feinberg researchers hypothesised that epicatechin, a major flavanol component of cocoa, may help increase mitochondrial activity and muscle health in the calves of patients with lower extremity PAD, potentially improving the patients’ walking ability.

Evaluating a 6-minute walking test, measured after drinking a test beverage containing flavanol-rich cocoa (15 grams of cocoa and 75 mgs of epicatechin daily) or a placebo, over six months, they noticed that study participants who consumed cocoa showed significant improvement – walking 42.6m further in the 6-minute walking test and exhibiting increased mitochondrial activity, increased capillary density, and other improvements to muscle health.

Those who drank the placebo beverage, however, had a decline of 24.2m in their 6-minute walk distance over time.

McDermott concludes, “These findings suggest that cocoa, a relatively inexpensive, safe and accessible product, could potentially produce significant improvements in calf muscle health, blood flow, and walking performance for PAD patients.”

The cocoa used in this small study is commonly available natural unsweetened cocoa powder, which is rich in the flavanol epicatechin. The flavanol is found in larger quantities in dark chocolate (>85% cacao) than in milk chocolate. Regular chocolate would not be expected to have the same effect.


Category: Features, Top Story

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