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Photo: Close up some delicious looking chocolate

A sweet initiative in MS research

Sarah Foxton

Could chocolate be the long awaited solution to fatigue? A group of scientists at Oxford Brookes University is going to find out.

Science behind the headlines

No, your eyes don’t deceive you. Chocolate - specifically dark and hot - will be studied for its fatigue-fighting capabilities in 2016.

The researchers behind this project have identified chocolate as having the potential to help people with fatigue because it contains compounds called flavonoids. These are found in lots of plant-based foods, and dark chocolate, with cocoa levels of over 70% has a particularly high content.

Flavonoids are thought to help reduce inflammation and damage caused by harmful molecules produced in MS which may be linked with fatigue. They have also been found to target the same receptor in the brain as some drugs currently used to manage fatigue in MS, implying that they could be a promising alternative to medications.

The study

In order to assess whether or not flavonoids could provide benefit to people with MS fatigue, the researchers will use two hot chocolate drinks in a group of 40 people with MS. Half will drink a flavonoid rich hot chocolate drink once a day for six weeks and the other half a low-flavonoid alternative.

People taking part in the study will fill in questionnaires about their fatigue levels, take part in walking tests and provide blood samples so researchers can check for signs of inflammation. They’ll also wear accelerometers; watches that will monitor their activity levels over the course of the study.

The study has been funded as part of the MS Society 2015 Grant round and it has been through a rigorous review process to obtain funding. Rest assured it’s not just being funded because of its choc-appeal; all of the research we fund is based on the highest quality science and a strong evidence base. The application has been reviewed by experts from across the field as well as people with MS.

Fatigue - the invisible symptom

We heard from Carole, a member of our research network, about her experiences of fatigue and she’s not alone in wanting answers. Around 75% of people with MS experience it and finding effective treatments to manage fatigue is third on the list of our research priorities, which were established by people with MS.

We are really excited about this study as we’re always looking for creative ways of helping people with MS to cope with their condition. The fact that it involves chocolate is just a nice little bonus!