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Smart Chocolate as a Platform for Space Functional Food

There are a number of health challenges in space. A combination of weightlessness and unusual socio-physical factors may result in the build up of subclinical oxidative damage, subclinical inflammation and subclinical hypoxia in the tissues of different organs of astronauts. This may involve loss of skeletal and bone mass, myocardial atrophy and hypertension, fatigue and sleep deprivation, immune-depression and anaemia, visual impairment and disruption of taste.

A conventional balanced diet, which provides sufficient nutrients for terrestrial, unchallenged life would not be sufficient to mitigate physiological changes in space. Use of pharmaceuticals for these purposes is questionable. Therefore development of fortified functional food with specific physiological targets could provide a nutritional solution in management of health challenges in space.

We have developed the technology for miniaturisation and increase in bioavailability of essential micro-nutrients and health beneficial food molecules, which can be used for fortification of different food matrixes. 

One of the first matrixes for which we adapted this technology was dark chocolate. It was chosen because it has a pleasant delivery vehicle but also has a long established pedigree of certain health beneficial properties from the time of the Aztecs to 400 years of European medicine. It has been used for physical endurance and mental performance, as an anti-inflammatory and to support cardiovascular health. One of the active groups behind these properties is cocoa flavanols, epicatechins.

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics clinical studies demonstrated that our process can improve the bioavailability of these molecules and increase their efficacy so that a piece of 5-10g has the power of 100g of unmodified dark chocolate.

We used this enriched cocoa flavanol Smart Chocolate as a platform, which we then combined with other food bioactive molecules with established physiological properties. They included such essential carotenoid molecules as lycopene to protect plasma lipoproteins and vascular endothelial, lutein and zeaxanthin to protect neuron cellular membrane, and astaxanthin to boost mitochondria respiration. These products have already been clinically validated and demonstrated their superior efficacy above unmodified dark chocolate and conventional supplementation.

In addition we combined the Smart Chocolate platform with trans-resveratrol, which stimulates SIRT1 and tissue regeneration, and also with anthocyanin, which improves the rhodopsin transduction pathway. These products are now ready for clinical trials.

Our studies demonstrated that the Smart Chocolate platform could be used to help to mitigate health challenges by addressing specific physiological targets – cardiovascular, cognition, retina and vision, physical performance and skeletal muscle health, support of which is critical in space expeditions.  

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The miniaturisation and improved bioavailability technology could be used for fortification of other compact food and beverage matrixes. This would allow the creation of other forms of compact functional food products, snacks, or drinking shots.


Granta Park
Dr Petyaev