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Dark Chocolate’s Effect on DNA

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I’ve read several articles lately regarding telomeres. If you aren’t familiar with telomeres, they are structures that protect the ends of our chromosomes and allow them to be replicated properly during cell division. Elizabeth Blackburn, co-discoverer of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, compared them to the tips of shoelaces that keep them from fraying.

Telomeres can become shortened due to oxidative stress (those darn free radicals again), and many age-related diseases have been linked to shortened telomeres.* Several studies indicate that the polyphenols in dark chocolate may slow the shortening of telomeres, thus avoiding cellular damage.* At least one of the studies indicates that the effect is short-lived. The subjects’ blood levels were tested for the presence of the polyphenols in dark chocolate and after about 22 hours, there were no traces left in the blood. Looks like to get the best results, small quantities of dark chocolate must be consumed on a daily basis.*

However, you shouldn’t think that having long telomeres means that you will have a long life. The studies also show that most cancer cells bypass the normal shortening of telomeres, so they can outlive the normal cellular lifespan and continue to multiply. Scientists are exploring ways to block the production of telomerase as a cancer treatment.

One such study is by A. Spadafranca, C. Martinez Conesa, S. Sirini and G. Testolin Effect of dark chocolate on plasma epicatechin levels, DNA resistance to oxidative stress and total antioxidant activity in healthy subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, Published online by Cambridge University Press 05 Nov 2009 doi:10.1017/S0007114509992698

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