Update on Chocolate and Stem Cells

I came across some exciting news – that is if you like chocolate like I do, or suffer from disc related low back pain like I do (though I don’t suffer – just have low grade discomfort at times). We’ve written about the health benefits of chocolate and low back pain in the past.

Dark Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health

We have a better understanding why chocolate has health benefits. Chocolate has been known to improve arterial wall function. A recent article published in FASEB shed further light on why chocolate is linked to improved cardiovascular health. This study showed that dark chocolate not only improves arterial wall stiffness but also lowers leukocyte counts (white blood cells) and the ability of leukocytes to stick to the arterial wall. Leukocytes are an indication of inflammation and inflammation is a major factor for heart and other diseases. So it looks like chocolate has the ability to reduce inflammation

Dark chocolate is also rich in flavonoids – antioxidants the neutralize free radicals that also contribute to disease and aging.

The important thing to remember is that these cardiovascular benefits were the result of eating 70 grams of dark chocolate daily. There are food products out there that contain cocoa extract. One of them is Cocoa Via by Mars. Don’t be surprised if you see a cocoa extract product go through the FDA approval process to be marketed as a prescription drug. That’s the word on the street.

Stem Cells and Low Back Pain

Stem cells are being studied to treat almost any chronic condition you can think of. Many of these are studies on laboratory animals, but some are clinical trials on humans. I think one area where stem cells may have relatively quick human application is in the area of musculoskeletal disorders – especially in the treatment of arthritis and spinal conditions.

About 80% of us will get low back pain at some point in our lives. Most chronic conditions of the lower back involve in the intervertebral discs – the “shock absorbers” between the vertebrate.

A phase II clinical trial conducted at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center showed that a single injection of stem cells reduced disc related low back pain. One hundred patients were involved in the study that lasted 12 months. Bone marrow stem cells were used and the average pain reduction was 50% in patients diagnosed with moderate to severe discogenic low back pain. Earlier studies showed the bone marrow stem cells were able to repair and restore disc structure. These mesenchymal stem cells can be obtained from the patient’s bone marrow or adipose of fat tissue. Patients in the trial also had better function and required less pain medication.

Unless the disc can actually be repaired and restored discogenic low back pain is typically a progressive condition and can severely dampen quality of life. This is all hopeful as low back pain can be expensive to treat not only in terms of medical costs, but is also a leading cause of disability and time off work.

More on stem cells as further studies become available.