Public Release: 

Could chocolate and oranges help prevent frailty in old age?

University of Nottingham

A study by The University of Nottingham is hoping to establish the health benefits from cocoa and vitamin C.

Researchers who are trying to find ways of helping us maintain muscle mass as we grow old have received funding of £270,000 from the Dunhill Medical Trust to carry out their Chocolate Orange Study.

The study is being run by Beth Philips a postgraduate research associate in the Department of Clinical Physiology. The department is a world leader in the research of skeletal muscle, with a focus on muscle protein synthesis and degradation.

Using state-of-the-art technology -- a contrast enhanced ultrasound machine -- Beth is monitoring the impact of cocoa and vitamin C on the amount of blood flow that reaches the muscle in both fasted and fed conditions.

In the UK there are now more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 18. It is projected that by 2033 the number of people aged 85 and over will reach 3.2 million -- that will account for five per cent of the population.

Falling is one of the major causes of premature death in elderly people. From the age of 50 onwards we lose up to 0.4 per cent of our muscle mass every year. This makes us less mobile, more prone to fractures and at higher risk of a potentially life-threatening fall.

Beth said: "There is a well-established correlation between premature mortality and muscle mass loss in the elderly. We have shown that as we age the blood flow to our legs in response to feeding is impaired. This means that fewer nutrients and oxygen are able to reach our muscles which may contribute to muscle wasting and ultimately frailty. We want to know if cocoa and vitamin C can help slow down this deterioration."

Researchers will take blood samples and muscle biopsies from a group of volunteers aged between 18 - 28 and 65 - 75. The study will involve the insertion of four fine canulae for blood sampling, four muscle biopsies and the previously mentioned contrast-enhanced ultrasound measures to assess any changes in blood flow to the leg muscles.

The tests will be carried out in Derby at the University's School of Graduate Entry Medicine.

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