Researchers expect foods will soon be available with added zinc
To reap the benefits of the treats, however, they must be consumed with zinc supplements - which together activate a compound that slows down ageing.
According to the researchers from the University of Erlangen in Nuremberg and Auburn University in Alabama, the combination can lengthen life by protecting against naturally-occurring “oxidative stress” - a gas that leads to ageing and other illnesses such as cancer, inflammation or degenerative diseases.
To analyse the effects of zinc, known for its benefits in helping the body fight off bacteria and viruses, and antioxidant polyphenols, which are found in chocolate, tea or coffee, the scientists combined the two in lab experiments.
On their own, polyphenols cannot break down oxidative stress, but when combined with zinc, they create a “mega complex” enzyme capable of protecting the body from the damaging waste gas that occurs as a by-product of cells, researchers found.
The resulting compound is similar to the naturally-occurring superoxide dismutase enzyme (SOD), which also destroys the gas and protects the body, according to the research published in the journal Nature Chemistry.
The study marks the first time researchers have been able to mimic the effects of the enzyme.
Previous attempts using metals such as iron or copper could also have had a “antioxidative effect,” however, they could also cause “oxidative stress to increase.”
Zinc is effective because it is less toxic than other metals - which leads researchers to hypothesise that it may be added to foods in the future to “boost the consumer’s health.”
Of the findings, lead author Dr Ivana Ivanović-Burmazović said: “It is certainly possible that wine, coffee tea or chocolate may well be available in future with added zinc.”
However, according to Dr Ivanović-Burmazović, it would have to be non-alcoholic wine - as “any alcohol content whatsoever would destroy the positive effects of this combination.”
Previous research conducted on the benefits of eating chocolate found it can also improve memory, reduce stress and make you happier.