Oxford Brookes academic leads research into hot chocolate easing symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Wednesday, 06 March 2019

Cocoa web

Dr Shelly Coe, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, has led a study into how a hot chocolate drink could be effective in tackling the fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Coe and a team of researchers found that people given a cocoa drink rich in flavonoids reported less fatigue and pain than those given another drink.

A six week study funded by the MS Society examined the effects of cocoa flavonoids - compounds known for their antioxidant properties.

Researchers concluded that flavonoids could be fruitful in managing symptoms of MS, because they help to reduce inflammation in the body.

The new study, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, split 40 people recently diagnosed with the relapsing remitting form of MS and fatigue into two groups.

The first were told to drink a cup of either high-flavonoid cocoa powder mixed with heated rice milk every day for six weeks, or a low-flavonoid version for the same duration.

Participants were told to wait 30 minutes before taking any prescribed medication or eating or drinking anything else, but otherwise they could stick to their usual diet.

Fatigue levels were assessed throughout the study, and those on the drinks rated their fatigue on a scale of one to 10, at 10am, 3pm and 8pm every day.

Activity levels were also measured with a pedometer. After six weeks, researchers discovered there was a small improvement in fatigue in 11 of those drinking the high-flavonoid cocoa, compared with eight of those drinking the low-flavonoid version.

Those drinking the high-flavonoid cocoa were also able to walk further than those in the other group during a six-minute walking test. Pain levels also seemed to be lower in those on the high-flavonoid drink.

The researchers said: "Our study establishes that the use of dietary interventions is feasible and may offer possible long-term benefits to support fatigue management, by improving fatigue and walking endurance."

Oxford Brookes academic Dr Coe is excited by the findings and is looking to developing the work. She commented:

With the promising results from this trial, we now hope to apply for further funding for a larger clinical trial to look more into the effects of pure cocoa on fatigue and associated symptoms.

"This work is still in its early stages, but with more data we very much hope to find a dietary approach that could help people with MS manage their symptoms, cheaply and safely, in the future." She added that people with MS and fatigue may find drinking a raw form of cacao daily helps with their fatigue.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society, said: "We know fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS and it can have a huge impact on quality of life, so finding more comprehensive treatments that help is one of our top research priorities."

The findings have been widely covered by the media including The Times (Paywall) and the Mail Online.

Further information on Dr Coe’s research can be found on our University profile page. Details on courses and research related to Nutrition at Oxford Brookes is available on the Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work webpages.

The trail and research was funded and conducted through The Centre for Movement, Occupational and Rehabilitation Sciences (MOReS).