Chocolate improves mitochondrial function and increases mitochondrial biogenesis

Alterations in skeletal muscle indicators of mitochondrial structure and biogenesis in patients with type 2 diabetes and heart failure: effects of epicatechin rich cocoa.

(-)-Epicatechin (Epi), a flavanol in cacao stimulates mitochondrial volume and cristae density and protein markers of skeletal muscle (SkM) mitochondrial biogenesis in mice. Type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) and heart failure (HF) are diseases associated with defects in SkM mitochondrial structure/function. A study was implemented to assess perturbations and to determine the effects of Epi-rich cocoa in SkM mitochondrial structure and mediators of biogenesis. Five patients with DM2 and stage II/III HF consumed dark chocolate and a beverage containing approximately 100 mg of Epi per day for 3 months. We assessed changes in protein and/or activity levels of oxidative phosphorylation proteins, porin, mitofilin, nNOS, nitric oxide, cGMP, SIRT1, PGC1α, Tfam, and mitochondria volume and cristae abundance by electron microscopy from SkM. Apparent major losses in normal mitochondria structure were observed before treatment. Epi-rich cocoa increased protein and/or activity of mediators of biogenesis and cristae abundance while not changing mitochondrial volume density. Epi-rich cocoa treatment improves SkM mitochondrial structure and in an orchestrated manner, increases molecular markers of mitochondrial biogenesis resulting in enhanced cristae density. Future controlled studies are warranted using Epi-rich cocoa (or pure Epi) to translate improved mitochondrial structure into enhanced cardiac and/or SkM muscle function.

Another recent paper found similar effects in mice: (–)-Epicatechin enhances fatigue resistance and oxidative capacity in mouse muscle

Non-technical summary 

During exercise, skeletal muscle performance depends in great part on the use of aerobic metabolism to supply the energetic demand of contractions. Endurance training increases the muscle aerobic capacity, which is not only associated with enhanced exercise performance, but also with a decreased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Recently, it has been shown that regular use of small doses of dark chocolate may result in similar health benefits to exercise training. We show here that mice fed for 15 days with (–)-epicatechin (present in dark chocolate) had improved exercise performance accompanied by: (1) an increased number of capillaries in the hindlimb muscle; and (2) an increased amount of muscle mitochondria as well as signalling for mitochondrial biogenesis. These results suggest that (–)-epicatechin increases the capacity for muscle aerobic metabolism, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue. These findings may have potential application for clinical populations experiencing muscle fatigue.

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1 comment
Sam says August 29, 2013

Probably the best post ever. 🙂 I love dark chocolate.

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