For years, researchers have struggled to pinpoint the health benefits of chocolate. Turns out, the answer may have been to go with your gut.
New findings suggest that you’re not the only one who likes chocolate. Gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, devour the stuff and then produce anti-inflammatory compounds which are good for you, according to scientists at Louisiana State University. In other words: this dark chocolate is probably great for your gut health and your heart.
In an experiment designed to mimic the human digestive tract, researchers examined what in cocoa powder gets broken down and how exactly this happens.
In the experiment, cocoa powder was first treated in test tubes that contained a stomach-like environment with enzymes. These did not break down the large antioxidants, leaving them too big to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Then study leader Dr. John Finley’s team had the cocoa pass through a colon-like environment, created using real fecal samples. There, the microbes feasted on the bacteria, breaking it down into molecules that would be much more likely to pass successfully into the bloodstream.
The scientists also found that the microbes broke down the small amount of fiber in the cocoa, which if passed into the blood stream could lead to an increased feeling of being full.
And the new molecules that were present after microbes broke down the antioxidants? If passed into the bloodstream, these compounds had amazing anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits.
“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” Dr. Finley said at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society last month.
Proving this holds true inside the human body means Finley’s team will have to repeat the experiment with real digestive tracts. As Finley told NPR, "The next step is to give people cocoa powder and see if we can find these metabolites in the blood.”
For now, we have one more reason to love dark chocolate!