Cocoa: The Muscle Miracle

Muscle MiracleSkeletal muscles are the muscle tissue that link bones together and are required to support and move the skeleton. There are 640 skeletal muscles in your body and they make up approximately 50 percent of your total body weight. Your skeletal muscles are extremely important and are vital for maintaining an upright posture, generating heat in the body and keeping your joints in place.

Unfortunately, there is plenty that can go wrong with your skeletal system, all of which can result in inflammation, pain and debility. A few of the most common problems are sprains, strains, arthritis pain, osteoarthritis related pain, muscular rheumatism (inflammation and pain of the muscles), back pain, and repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Cocoa may work as a form of alternative pain relief if you suffer from any of these musculoskeletal issues, because compounds in cocoa have been shown to help to reduce inflammation and encourage the production of pain relieving chemicals in your brain.


Recent research suggests that cocoa may not only reduce skeletal muscle related pain, it may also help to enhance overall musculoskeletal function. Cocoa contains an antioxidant dense flavonoid called epicatechins. Epicatechins are the active ingredient in cocoa, which are responsible for its apparent ability to enhance skeletal muscle function.

Recently, the UC San Diego School of Medicine and VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) conducted a study on 5 patients with either severe type-2 diabetes or heart failure, all of whom had major skeletal muscle mitochondria damage. Mitochondria are very important cell “powerhouses” which provide the energy that cells need to move and divide. When the mitochondria become damaged it leads to pain, inflammation, abnormalities, and dysfunction of the skeletal muscles, as well as to impaired functional capacity. Heart failure and type-2 diabetes can both prevent the mitochondria from functioning and this leads to multiple skeletal muscle abnormalities. People with mitochondria damage in their skeletal muscles often experience a lack of energy, chronic shortness of breath, and difficulty walking, amongst other symptoms.

The patients in the study were given dark chocolate bars and a chocolate beverage made from epicatechins-enriched cocoa, for a total intake of 100 mg of epicatechins per day. Biopsies of the skeletal muscles of the patients were taken before and after the treatment. After three months, the patients all showed a marked improvement in mitochondrial structure and volume, an increase in mitochondria production and consequently, an improved overall functional capacity.

The study was small, but encouraging nonetheless, and UC San Diego School of Medicine and VASDHS are currently planning a larger placebo controlled study to assess if epicatechins-rich cocoa can help improve exercise capacity in patients with heart failure and diabetes.

Although more studies need to be done to confirm the effectiveness of cocoa as a skeletal muscle function enhancer, numerous studies have already conformed that cocoa delivers several health benefits. Cocoa is nutrient dense, and a great source of iron, fiber, magnesium and antioxidants. Not only does it act as a form of alternative pain relief in your body, it also appears to act as a natural antidepressant by boosting the levels of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Finally, studies have shown promise that cocoa can potentially help to reduce your risk for heart disease and blood clots, decrease inflammation, and possibly lower both cholesterol and blood pressure.