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Is this common baking ingredient the next performance enhancer?

Jade Teta

Cocoa powder is loaded with bioflavanoids which are now known to be effective bioactive (meaning they impact our physiology) compounds. Here at Metabolic Effect we use cocoa powder in several ways. We have written a blog on its science as well as have been using it for cravings for some time. Its benefit in controling cravings comes from its ability to increase the brain chemicals (AKA neurohormones or neurotransmitters) dopamine and serotonin. We use it as a restorative stimulant because, unlike coffee which can potentially drain minerals from the body, cocoa is a rich source of many nutritive minerals, most importantly magnesium. Magnesium, along with zinc and vitamin B6, is the number one depleted micronutrient when under stress.

We have long suspected cocoa may have some performance benefits in an athletes, as well as powerful healing effects in the ill, especially heart patients. We have seen clinically beneficial effects in those with heart disease and diabetes as well as athletes for years.

Cocoa has also been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease blood stickiness (called platelet aggregation) and potentially regulate blood sugar. In other words, it is has several overlapping and beneficial effects on heart and metabolic health. These effects would be like taking an aspirin, blood pressure medication, and blood sugar medication all at the same time.

Now a very small pilot study hints our clinical suspicions about cocoa’s ability to enhance performance and restore may be true. Now, this is a very small trial and is extremely preliminary, but given what we have seen clinically we suspect there is something to it and look forward to follow up studies. 3 months of cocoa intake in 5 diabetic heart patients was shown to restore mitochondrial function back to normal. Mitochondria are the energy producing factories in our cells that are essential for health and exercise performance. They are the base unit of metabolism and when they become diseased, the metabolism can no longer function optimally. The ability of any substance to be able to restore mitochondrial function is something to stand up and take note off. This is a potentially very exciting possibility.

Obviously, given mitochondria are both a major factor in health and performance, this information has ramifications for the metabolically challenged as well as the metabolically elite. Athletes want to do everything they can do to increase mitochondrial activity. While this research means very little at the moment, needs to be repeated AND says nothing yet about athletic enhancement, it is something we will be watching with interest in the future.

We have already been using cocoa for both purposes in our clinic for sometime. This recent article is available for free online. Read the article now.

Taub, et al. Alterations in Skeletal Muscle Indicators of Mitochondrial Structure and Biogenesis in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Failure: Effects of Epicatechin Rich Cocoa. Clinical and Translational Science. February 2012;5(1):43-47.