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There are many people out there whose weakness is chocolate. However, according to a recent study presented at an American Chemical Society meeting, it turns out that bacteria in the stomach eat chocolate, which produces anti-inflammatory compounds that are beneficial to the heart. The naturally occurring antioxidants flavanols are found in cocoa products, but until now, scientists didn’t really know what happens to them in the lower gastrointestinal tract. There have been many different health benefits linked to chocolate, but the exact reason for this has been unclear for a while.
Researchers from Louisiana State University tested three cocoa powders with a series of modified test tubes, which modeled the human digestive tract and simulated normal digestion. According to one of the researchers, there are both “good” and “bad” microbes. Good microbes, for example Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate. When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, which in turn produces anti-inflammatory compounds.
John Finley, who led the study, explains that cocoa powder contains flavanol compounds of catechin and epicatechin, as well as a small bit of dietary fiber. Even though both of these are poorly digested and absorbed, good microbes begin to process them once they enter the colon. After subjecting the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation, Finley says that he observed certain changes. The fiber is fermented, and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which in turn are more easily absorbed. Then, these smaller polymers exhibited anti-inflammatory activity. When these compounds decrease inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, it actually reduces the risk of stroke.
In addition, eating prebiotics along with the fiber in cocoa could improve somebody’s overall health by converting polyphenolics in the stomach into compounds that serve as anti-inflammatories. Prebiotics are naturally found in foods, but are also available as dietary supplements.