Chocolate makes us happy, lifts our mood, and is known to be healthy for your heart, provided it is is dark and with a high cocoa content. But what we didn’t know until now is just why it has this effect.
Your stomach has the answer
Some intrepid researchers have finally found out that those health benefits are directly related to certain bacteria in the stomach. They literally ‘eat’ the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.
These were not your everyday chocaholics, but researchers from Louisiana State College of Agriculture whose findings were reported at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas.
“We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones,” explained Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study’s researchers.
“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” she said. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.”
The anti-inflammatory effect
The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli. “When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” said John Finley, Ph.D., who led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. The researchers are with Louisiana State University.
The base for their study was cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fibre. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. “In our study we found that the fibre is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” he said.
Chocolate is certainly helpful, and so apparently are probiotics as when you combine them it is likely to improve your overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds.
Also if your idea of heaven is dark chocolate dipped fruit you are ahead in the health stakes as when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranates and acai it helps even more.
If you are wanting to improve your heart health year-round, not just at Easter, then supplementing with bioidentical natural progesterone is protective from heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes – particularly at menopause.