Chocolate-loving gut bacteria turn dark chocolate ‘heart-healthy’

Chocoholics rejoice! Dark chocolate has the potential to improve cardiovascular health, researchers at the Louisiana State University in the US have suggested. They even discovered what makes this cocoa delight healthful, and why it can improve cardiovascular health and reduce stroke risk.

Probably we all know that chocolate, particularly of the dark variety, carry infinite health benefits, and now Louisiana State University researchers have uncovered why.

The friendly bacteria in our guts may be one of the major reasons why bittersweet dark chocolate is good for the heart health, researchers said Tuesday while presenting their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas.

The specific chocolate-loving microbes in the gut break down indigestible chocolate compounds and gobble up cocoa powder to turn it into potent anti-inflammatory compounds known to help the heart, the researchers explained in the meeting.

Such compounds reduce inflammation in cardiac tissue, which in turn lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke and protects arteries from damage, they said.

To reach their findings, research team tested three types of cocoa powder in a model of the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract and found that certain bacteria in the stomach feast on the fiber in cocoa. The bacteria ferment the fiber and metabolise the large polyphenolic polymers and convert them to smaller molecules, which release anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit the heart.

“We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones,” researcher Maria Moore, from Louisiana State University, said.

“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” she continued. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.”

Dr John Finley, who led the Louisiana research team, suggests combining cocoa with prebiotics or non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate bacterial growth can enhance the process with beneficial results. According to him, dark chocolate can also be combined with such fruits as pomegranates and grape-like fruit acai to boost its benefits.

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