Research from Wayne State University has shown that small amounts of dark chocolate improve the health of mice as much as exercise, because it contains the plant compound epicatechin.

The group of scientists from Detroit hope their findings can be used to help stem the effects of muscle wastage in humans.

"At the moment it would be a leap of faith to say the same effects would be seen in humans," said Dr Moh Malek, "But it is something we hope to identify in future studies."

The team discovered that the epicatechin in chocolate stimulated the same response in the energy-generating mitochondria part of cells as would happen through vigorous exercise. 

Dr Malek, who led the study said: ''Aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling, is known to increase the number of mitochondria in muscle cells. 

"Our study has found that epicatechin seems to bring about the same response - particularly in the heart and skeletal muscles."

They compared the treadmill performances of two groups of mice, one who had been given cocoa epicatechin twice daily and one who had undergone 30 minutes treadmill training a day.

After 15 days of the programme, they found the cocoa-fed mice performed as well as the treadmill trained group, but point out that dark chocolate should not become a substitute for exercise.

"Epicatechin treatment combined with exercised could be a viable means to offset muscle problems," Dr Malek concluded.

Posted September 20th, 2011 at 1015 by Richard. Comment by emailing: