Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory disorder that affects over three million Americans a year.
Alongside factors like diet, smoking status, and preexisting conditions, aging is one of the most instructive elements of diagnosis.
Common symptoms include but are not limited to the following: generalized pain, tightness, cramping, weakness, damaged mitochondria in the calf muscles, and discomfort in leg muscles while walking.
Overtime, PAD results in the narrowing of arteries, which in turn restricts the amount of blood flow from the heart to the legs. Degenerative properties of the disease are especially common among Americans over the age of 40. Thankfully, preemptive measures are just as pervasive.
A new study published in Circulation Research posits that habitually consuming cocoa can dramatically reduce symptoms associated with PAD.
“Cocoa and its major flavanol component, epicatechin, have therapeutic properties that may improve limb perfusion and increase calf muscle mitochondrial activity in people with lower extremity peripheral artery disease (PAD),” the authors wrote in the new paper. “Six-month double-blind, randomized clinical trial in which participants with PAD were randomized to either cocoa beverage versus placebo beverage. The cocoa beverage contained 15 g of cocoa and 75 mg of epicatechin daily. These preliminary results suggest a therapeutic effect of cocoa on walking performance in people with PAD. “
The Northwestern University researchers recruited 44 peripheral artery disease patients over the age of 60.
Before analysis, the authors theorized that flavanols found in cocoa (namely epicatechin) have the potential to increase mitochondrial activity and muscle health in calf muscles affected by lower extremity peripheral artery disease.
Additionally, epicatechins have been previously studied to improve blood flow.
The 44 participants involved in the new paper were randomly assigned to drink milk or water with a powder packet containing flavanol-rich cocoa (15 grams of cocoa and 75 mg of epicatechin daily) or a placebo powder packet without cocoa or epicatechin three times daily over the course of six months.
Participants who drank the beverage containing flavanol-rich cocoa three times a day for six months were able to walk 42.6 meters further in a 6-minute walking test, compared to those who drank the same number and type of beverages without the cocoa mix.
Moreover, the experiment group evidenced increased mitochondrial activity and increased capillary density.
Capillary density, limb perfusion, mitochondrion stability, and overall skeletal muscle health were all recorded to enjoy boosts on account of routine cocoa consumption.
The control group assigned the placebo beverage actually demonstrated a decline of 24.2 meters in their walking distance at 2.5 hours compared to the baseline.
“The higher rate of hospitalizations or death in the cocoa group compared with placebo was unexpected but may have been due to the substantially higher rate of current smoking among those randomized to cocoa compared with placebo (48% versus 14%)” the authors continued. “Of the 7 serious adverse events in the cocoa group, 4 were cardiovascular in nature. Of the 4 participants in the cocoa group with a cardiovascular event, 2 (50%) smoked cigarettes. Further study is needed to definitively determine whether cocoa significantly improves walking performance in people with PAD.”
The cocoa used in the study is can be purchased at most grocery stores. Epicatechin can also be obtained in large quantities via dark chocolate bars.