The vast majority of humans will agree that aging sucks and that chocolate is delicious. Now science is investigating if aging can be improved by cocoa. The study is actually looking at some of the molecular components of the delicious food to understand how they might benefit and counter-act some negative effects of aging.
The "good" molecules in chocolate are called flavanols. They are antioxidants that can produce a strong anti-inflammatory response. They are the major ingredient of dark chocolate and cocoa. They are good for you but what is not known is how much and in what way.
To answer these questions Dr. Yanbin Dong, geneticist and cardiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia, has just received a $3 million grant (1RO1HL157665-01) from the National Institutes of Health. Dong and his colleagues will investigate inflammatory factors and genetic changes associated with aging, and if cocoa consumption reduces these factors.
“People think the consumption of chocolate is good for you,” Dong said in a statement. “We are going to prove or dispute it.”
The investigation will not just look at cocoa supplements but also multivitamins. The latter is the most commonly used supplement in the US. This is the focus of the COSMOS Trial (COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study), which has recruited 21,444 people. The women included in the trial are aged 65 or higher, while the men are 60 years old or above.
Previous clinical studies found some potential benefits to the use of flavonoids including in reducing inflammation, blood pressure, and insulin resistance, among other benefits such as lowering cholesterol, cognitive decline, and even boosting the immune response. But these studies were mostly limited. The COSMOS trial will test the effects of the supplements on a large number of people.
In particular, the trial will investigate if and how many pro- and anti-inflammatory factors are present in the blood of the participants at the beginning of the COSMOS Trial and then after one and two years. They’d be either taking the cocoa supplement, a multivitamin, both, or neither. Dong and colleagues will also assess beneficial epigenetic variation potentially activated by cocoa or multivitamin supplements.
Flavanols are not exclusive to cocoa. They are also found in grapes and red wine, tomatoes, onions, berries, and peaches. So while we wait for the results of the trial we can certainly keep consuming all these yummy products. They might not save us from aging but they will certainly make growing older more enjoyable.