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21 March 2023
Published online 4 June 2013
Chocolate fans may not be able to explain why the substance is so close to their heart, but scientists may have found why it helps protect that most vital organ.
Constantly on the look-out for natural products and nutritional supplements that could potentially improve heart performance and reduce heart disease, researchers have identified a nutrient in dark chocolate called epicatechin which they say has a protective effect on the heart.
In a new study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research1, a team of researchers led by Hemal Patel from the University of California San Diego, and including Sameh Ali of Zewail City of Science and Technology in Egypt, discovered that low doses of epicatechin induce beneficial metabolic and structural changes in heart cell mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell.
The team administered epicatechin to mice and contrasted its effect on their hearts with those that received a control drug.
They found that the mitochondrial changes observed were induced through the activation of delta opioid receptors, though the mechanism for how this affects mitochondria remains unexplained.
Previous studies have suggested that damage to mitochondria could be a major factor in heart disease, so the positive effects of low doses of epicatechin may explain its heart-protective properties. Its effect on mitochondria may also help with other conditions, such as diabetes, heart and brain ageing and some degenerative nerve diseases.