Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why Is Dark Chocolate Good for You? Thank Your Microbes

Cocoa is good for your heart because of fermentation by gut bacteria, creating anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function 


Dark chocolate might pack a double positive punch for our health—thanks to the microbes that live in our gut. New research suggests that beneficial bacteria that reside toward the end of our digestive tract ferment both the antioxidants and the fiber in cocoa.

In their deep-gut alchemy these microbes create anti-inflammatory compounds that have been linked to the cardiovascular and other benefits from dark chocolate consumption. The findings were presented March 18 at the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas. Other new research helps explain how some of cocoa's widespread health benefits—from improving vascular function to increasing insulin sensitivity—may be linked—and good for even the young and the healthy.

Previous research suggested that cocoa components could be fermented to generate beneficial compounds. Daily consumption of dark chocolate or cocoa lowered people's blood pressure an average of two to three points (millimeters of mercury), according to a 2012 review (pdf) of 20 different studies. So John Finley, a professor of food sciences at Louisiana State University, and his students took the work a step further to see what else the body might be getting from this common treat—and how.

To follow cocoa through its digestive journey, they created a lab-built gut of sorts. (And for this, you may want to put down your chocolate momentarily.) "It's a rather disgusting process," Finley apologizes.

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