Benefits of Chocolate: Check Your Gut

Chocolate’s benefits may extend beyond mere pleasure. A number of recent studies have looked at the prebiotic effects of chocolate or cocoa in the guts of laboratory rats and humans. Chocolate or cocoa appears to be a prebiotic that is rich in polyphenols, among other substances. A prebiotic is a food ingredient that promotes healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

When researchers compared the outcomes of consuming a high-cocoa vs. a low-cocoa flavanol drink in a controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial, their results show a significant increase in certain gut microbes such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

In other studies, researchers looked at the effect of prebiotics on gut microbiota and the differences between the microbiota ecosystem of patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and healthy individuals. IBS subjects had lower numbers of bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and a higher number of clostridia. Chocolate might, therefore, offer a potential benefit to these patients since it can lead to the increase in the bifidobacteria and lactobacilli population and a reduction in clostridia. Chocolate plays an unexpected prebiotic role in human diseases and disorders. Just one more reason to enjoy it (in moderation, of course).

Note well: Data on potential health benefits of chocolate related to gut microbiota are intriguing, but not definitive. In the case of hypertension, a recent Cochrane Review concluded that the evidence is sufficient to conclude that short-term use of cocoa causes a small reduction of 2-3 mm Hg in blood pressure. This effect might complement other treatment options, but long-term, controlled studies are lacking. Benefits claimed for chocolate on cognition, metabolism, and weight  should be viewed with more skepticism.

Click here to read more in Frontiers of Experimental Pharmacology and Drug Discovery and here to read more in the Cochrane Summaries.

Chocolate image © Christopher Michel / Wikimedia

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