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"Good" gut microbes revealed as the key to dark chocolate's health benefits

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March 19, 2014

Researchers have finally discovered the key to dark chocolate's health benefits (Photo: Sh...

Researchers have finally discovered the key to dark chocolate's health benefits (Photo: Shutterstock)

It has long been known that eating chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has numerous health benefits. Although various studies have backed this up, the exact reason as to why this is so has remained a mystery. Now researchers from Louisiana State University have provided the answer – gut microbes.

Presenting their findings at the 27th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the researchers revealed that, unlike so-called "bad" bacteria in the gut, such as some Clostridia and some E. coli, that are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, "good" bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feed on dark chocolate to produce anti-inflammatory compounds.

John Finley, Ph.D., who led the world-first research into the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach, says that when these anti-inflammatory compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the long-term risk of stroke by reducing the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue.

Using a series of modified test tubes as a model digestive tract that simulated normal digestion, the team tested three different cocoa powders. Cocoa powder, which is a key ingredient of chocolate, contains several antioxidant compounds and a small amount of dietary fiber, both of which are poorly digested and absorbed in the stomach but are feasted on by good microbes when they reach the colon. Using human fecal bacteria, the team subjected these non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation.

"In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed," said Finley. "These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity."

Finley says that combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics, (non-digestible carbohydrates available in dietary supplements, but also found in food like raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system), could also help convert antioxidant polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-iflammatory compounds, which he believes is likely to improve a person's health.

"When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems," he said. Finley added that combining dark chocolate with solid fruits, such as pomegranates and acai could also provide even greater health benefits.

Source: ACS

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
3 Comments

Of course one must have the right bacteria in one's guts. With the discovery that having the right bacteria in the intestines is a key to being trim, fit and healthy - why hasn't the FDA and doctors been pushing hard for getting people's guts tuned up?

This is very likely a major reason why some people get fat no matter what or how little they eat and how much they exercise. They simply lack the bacteria required to correctly break food down into the right compounds but have plenty of the wrong kinds which break food down into compounds the body converts to fat.

Gregg Eshelman
20th March, 2014 @ 03:35 pm PDT

I'll never hear the end of it. My partner has been saying this for years..........

Martin Hone
20th March, 2014 @ 03:52 pm PDT

As a choco-holic for 71 years, I have read much on cocoa. It has many names, one of them being, chocolate. When I was about 10 or 11, milk chocolate was introduced by the chocolate companies as a big improvement in taste. I hated it. It did not have the strong, bitter bite of dark chocolate. I boycotted it and within a few years only one dark candy bar existed, Mounds. That was my favorite anyway. My theory on why the big companies spent so much money selling/converting to milk chocolate is simple: Higher profit. They replaced the relatively expensive cacao with cheaper milk, sugar, and salt. Sugar and salt are two cheapest food additives, and the most common. No surprise.

Now I buy only Trader Joe's super-dark/73% cacao bars sweetened with evaporated cane juice. If I could find raw bars I would buy them. I buy 3 or 5 pound bags of raw cacao powder on Amazon.

The nutritional value of commercially processed chocolate is nil and adding refined sugar only makes it less healthy.

Don Duncan
22nd March, 2014 @ 02:39 pm PDT
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