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Take Two Ounces of Chocolate and Call Me in the Morning

Take Two Ounces of Chocolate and Call Me in the Morning

In 431 B.C., the Greek physician, Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”  It is well understood that making changes to one’s diet can reduce the odds of developing many diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  In addition to that, modern scientific research has uncovered that many natural products found in the food that we eat have powerful medicinal properties.  Perhaps, one of the best examples of a food product with medicinal properties is fish oil.  As a child growing up in Canada, I learned a famous Canadian folk song in Elementary School called The Cod Liver Oil Song that was written by Johnny Burke (1851-1930), a balladeer from St. John’s, Newfoundland.  Below is one of my favorite excerpts from the The Cod Liver Oil Song which always brings back memories to me of my childhood in Southwestern Ontario.

“I’m a young married man and I’m tired of life
Ten years I’ve been wed to a pale sickly wife,
She’s nothing to do only sit there and cry
Praying and praying to God she would die.
A friend of my own came to see me one day
He told me my wife she was pining away
He afterwards told me that she would get strong
If I get a bottle from dear Dr John.

Oh doctor, oh doctor, oh dear Dr John
Your cod liver oil is so pure and so strong
I’m afraid of my life, I’ll go down in the soil
If me wife don’t stop drinking your cod liver oil.”

Cod liver oil like other oils derived from fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively in a number of areas ranging from cardiovascular disease, depression, ADHD and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) developed a top-selling drug called Lovaza® that is derived from fish oil to help reduce specific fats in the blood called triglycerides in order to reduce the risk of heart disease.  Using a proprietary process, GSK Scientists and Engineers figured out how to concentrate omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil while reducing impurities such as mercury.

Fish oil is certainly not the only natural product with significant health benefits.  Believe it or not, chocolate actually has health benefits as well.  Wouldn’t it be great if everything that is good for us were as tasty as chocolate?  Much of the nutrition research on chocolate has focused on the role of a compound called epicatechin, a nutrient that is found in the cocoa plant.  Levels of epicatechins tend to be much higher in dark chocolate relative to milk chocolate while white chocolate contains very low quantities of epicatechin.  In 2013, a group of researchers at the University of California, San Diego reported the results of an initial proof-of-concept, human clinical study involving epicatechin [1].  

In this study, the research group demonstrated that subjects reported improvements in hand grip strength after 7 days of treatment with (-)-epicatechin in addition to an increase in the ratio of two blood plasma proteins, follistatin/myostatin.  People with an age-related muscle loss experience reduced handgrip strength which makes it difficult for them to perform daily tasks like opening a jar of pickles.  Myostatin is a protein found in the blood that “puts the brakes” on the growth and development of new muscle tissue.  Why does your body have a protein that “puts the brakes” on muscle growth and development?  It is believed that myostatin’s role is to keep muscle mass growth and develop in check with bone strength.  Too much muscle mass would be a terrible thing if your bones could not support it.  The protein, follistatin is a protein in your body that blocks myostatin and keeps myostatin from doing its job.  Therefore, by increasing follistatin while lowering myostatin, the epicatechin found in chocolate may help people develop muscle.

The natural product, Fortetropin® is a fertilized egg yolk-derived product that has been demonstrated to lead to gains in muscle mass in a human clinical study.  Investigators at the University of Tampa found that resistance trained subjects that consumed Fortetropin® experienced statistically significant gains in muscle mass relative to subjects that received a macronutrient-matched placebo [2].  Fortetropin® is a key ingredient in a line of functional food products called Qurr (www.qurr.com).  If you ever watched the sports drama classic, Rocky you may recall the scene in which boxer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) drinks raw egg yolk to help him build muscle before a big fight.  Eating raw egg yolk is dangerous due to the risk of harmful microorganisms such as Salmonella and Lysteria.  Cooking egg yolk reduces the risk of illness by effectively killing the harmful microorganisms but also damages some of the beneficial nutrients in egg yolk.  By pasteurizing egg yolk using pressures that are even greater than what one would experience standing at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean, one can retain many of the beneficial properties of egg yolk while effectively pasteurizing it, leaving it safe.  With advances in food technology along with other areas of science such as proteomics, lipidomics and metabolomics, many products derived from food may one day evolve into the next generation of medicines.  

References:

[1] Gutierrez-Salmean, Gabriela, et al. "Effects of (−)-epicatechin on molecular modulators of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation." The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 25.1 (2014): 91-94.

[2] Sharp, Matthew H., et al. "The Effects of Fortetropin Supplementation on Body Composition, Strength, and Power in Humans and Mechanism of Action in a Rodent Model." Journal of the American College of Nutrition 35.8 (2016): 679-691.

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