Eating chocolate and drinking coffee or tea could help you live longer, research suggests.
Indulging in the treats while taking zinc supplements activates a compound that slows down ageing, a study found.
This reverses the ‘internal stress’ that naturally accumulates over the years and has been linked to everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s.
Zinc is a relatively safe supplement even at high doses and could therefore be taken regularly to help slow ageing, according to the German researchers.
Chocolate, wine, coffee and tea contain the antioxidants polyphenols, which help combat cell damage.
Researchers from the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg found zinc activates a compound in polyphenols in the lab.
This activation then protects against a gas that is produced as a waste product by cells, according to the research in the journal Nature Chemistry.
This gas can damage a person’s DNA – oxidative stress – and is thought to play a key role in the ageing process.
It also linked to inflammation that can then cause cancer and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Polyphenols cannot break down this damaging gas alone. But when combined with zinc, they create a ‘mega complex’.
This complex mimics the naturally-occurring superoxide dismutase enzyme that destroys the gas to help protect the body from its effects.
This study is the first time the effects of this enzyme have been copied without resorting to the chemical properties of metals such as iron or copper.
Excessive exposure to these metals can cause so-called internal stress on their own. Zinc, however, is much less toxic.
Too much iron has also been linked to liver disease, diabetes and even heart failure, while too much copper can cause fever, anaemia and low blood pressure.
Zinc, however, can be tolerated at higher doses with overexposure largely leading to just nausea and a change in your taste.
The researchers therefore hope it can be taken as a supplement or incorporated as part of a drug with fewer side effects.
It is also plausible to add zinc to foods that naturally contain polyphenols. It already found in high quantities in red meat.
‘It is certainly possible wine, coffee, tea or chocolate may well become be available in [the] future with added zinc,’ lead author Dr Ivana Ivanović-Burmazović said.
‘However, any alcohol content whatsoever would destroy the positive effects of this combination.’ This means it could work with alcohol-free wines.
This comes after research released earlier this year suggested chocolate milk boosts exercise recovery more than sports drinks.
The popular milkshake allows athletes to intensely exercise for around six minutes longer than sports drink without tiring, according to Iranian scientists.