• Cocoa, like dark chocolate, is rich in flavonoids––substances found abundantly in fruit and vegetables and associated with anti-inflammatory properties. (E+/Getty Images)
New international research has found that drinking regular cups of hot chocolate, rich in cocoa and flavonoids, may help curb fatigue typically associated with multiple sclerosis.
By
Yasmin Noone

5 Mar 2019 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2019 - 12:44 PM

If ever there were ever a beverage you’d want medical scientists to recommend you drink to help curb the symptoms of a serious health condition, it’d be hot chocolate. 

A new study has revealed that regularly drinking hot chocolate, made with a high percentage of cocoa, could be a safe and easy way to reduce fatigue symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The results of this small trial, published online in The BMJ Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry today, suggests that the flavonoids found in a cup of cocoa may produce an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces inflammation in the body, which causes fatigue in a person living with MS.

“A flavonoid beverage demonstrates the potential to improve fatigue and fatigability in relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis,” the study reads.

A flavonoid is a group of organic compounds that occur as pigments in fruit and flowers. Regularly found in fruit and vegetables, as well as in cocoa beans from the cacao tree, flavonoids also have anti-oxidative, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Cocoa may help curb fatigue typically associated with multiple sclerosis.

The cocoa - fatigue trial

Previous research suggests that dark chocolate, containing between 70 and 85 per cent cocoa solids, is associated with an improvement in subjectively assessed fatigue in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that 90 per cent of people with MS experience fatigue.

So a team of researchers, led by Oxford Brookes University in the UK, decided to investigate whether consuming cocoa could produce a positive impact  on MS-related fatigue.

A trial was conducted involving 40 people aged between 34-54 years old who had been recently diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form of MS and fatigue.

They were required to drink either a high- or low-flavonoid cocoa every day for six weeks. The beverage was made using cocoa powder and mixed with heated rice milk. Participants also subjectively rated their fatigue on a scale four times a day.

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Fatigue and fatigability – the speed with which mental and physical fatigue set in – were formally assessed before the results demonstrated a small improvement in fatigue and moderate effect on fatigability.

Those drinking the high flavonoid beverage showed a 45 per cent improvement in subjectively assessed fatigue and an 80 per cent improvement in walking speed.

“Flavonoids have been found to increase cerebral blood flow by inducing widespread stimulation of brain perfusion, and this could also influence mood, cognitive performance, fatigue perception and ability to perform specific movement tasks,” the study’s authors write.

Those drinking the high flavonoid beverage showed a 45 per cent improvement in subjectively assessed fatigue and an 80 per cent improvement in walking speed.

MS is complex and diverse

MS Australia estimates that it affects over 25,600 in Australia and more than two million diagnosed worldwide.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the USA, MS is more common in geographical areas farthest from the equator. However, researchers do not know why, nor can they explain why prevalence rates vary differently among groups living in geographical areas with the same latitude. For example: MS is almost unheard of in some populations, like Australian Aboriginals and New Zealanders, Hungarian Romani and Norwegian Lapps.

MS is also a complex and diverse disorder that affects people differently. MS Australia states online that those living with the illness can respond differently to treatments and interventions.

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Although cocoa and its relationships with fatigue and MS have not been studied extensively, and larger-scale studies are needed to confirm the results, the research offerings some hope for people living with the condition.

“The use of dietary approaches to reduce fatigue and associated factors in people with MS may be an easy, safe and cost effective way to have an impact on quality of life and independence, allowing people to feel more in control of their condition,” the study reads.

The study’s authors also propose that given the possible anti-inflammatory mechanism, flavonoid-rich drinks are recommended alongside other treatments and therapies – like physiotherapy – to help manage fatigue.

In a linked editorial, Dr Paolo Ragonese, University of Palermo in Sicily, points out that the treatment and management of MS related fatigue “still represents a challenge…because its mechanisms are multifactorial.”

“Although [this] study is an exploratory trial, it adds further interesting suggestions to the possible positive effects of flavonoid intake on the management of fatigue in patients with MS,” he concludes. 

Cocoa recipes to crave
Smoky eggplant and cocoa dip

This version of babaganoush sounds unusual, but it’s absolutely delicious: the chocolate and eggplant together give a subtle, sweet, earthy smoky flavour. 

Cocoa cannoli with ricotta (cannoli al cacao con ricotta)

Cannoli are one of the most popular sweet Sicilian street foods. This unique version adds cinnamon, cocoa and coffee to the pastry. 

Roasted cocoa crackle cookies

Roasting the cocoa adds extra depth to these rich and dark chocolate cookies.

Chocolate mousse with cocoa nibs

This mousse is for any serious chocaholic. The silky-smooth feel from the pastry cream together with the melted dark chocolate gives an extra-rich flavour.

Dutch cocoa mousse slice with ginger bread

Today, French chef Gabriel Gaté discusses the food speciality of Holland and talks to cheese guru Will Studd about Dutch cheeses. Gabriel prepares a Dutch cocoa mousse with spiced bread, and sommelier Christian Maier speaks about Dutch gin.