By Vanessa Chalmers Health Reporter For Mailonline
Published: 10:11 GMT, 14 February 2020 | Updated: 10:11 GMT, 14 February 2020
Drinking hot chocolate could help over 60s stay on their feet after a study suggests cocoa boosts blood circulation in the legs.
Those who drank a mug of flavanol-rich cocoa three times a day for six months were able to walk significantly further in a walking test at the end of the study period.
Researchers think the cocoa may have improved blood flow to participants' calves and improved muscle function allowing them to go the extra distance.
A fifth of people over 60 in the UK have some degree of peripheral artery disease or 'PAD,' which is a narrowing of the arteries that reduces blood flow to the legs.
Drinking hot chocolate could help over 60s stay on their feet after a study suggests cocoa boosts blood circulation in the legs, study shows
The symptoms often strike when walking and include pain, tightness, cramping and weakness, which is comparable to the discomfort suffered by advanced heart failure patients.
Commenting on the findings, study author Professor Mary McDermott, at Northwestern University in Chicago, US, said: 'While we expected the improvements in walking, we were particularly pleased to see that cocoa treatment was also associated with increased capillary density, limb perfusion, mitochondrial activity, and an additional measure of overall skeletal muscle health.'
'If our results are confirmed in a larger trial, these findings suggest that cocoa, a relatively inexpensive, safe and accessible product, could potentially produce significant improvements in calf muscle health, blood flow, and walking performance for PAD patients.'
Study participants were randomly assigned to drink either a mug of flavanol-rich cocoa or a placebo powder packet without cocoa three times daily over six months.
Walking performance was measured at the beginning of the study and at six months for the 44 peripheral artery disease patients, all of whom were aged over 60.
They completed the six-minute walking test twice, at two and a half hours and 24 hours after drinking the beverage, as well as a treadmill test.
The participants also had the blood flow to their legs measured using an MRI scan, and those who consented had a calf muscle biopsy to evaluate muscle health.
The cocoa drinkers