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Dozens of studies on the health benefits of chocolate continue around the world

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The European Society of Cardiology notes that it's official: Chocolate is linked to heart health, says a recent study, "Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis." High levels of chocolate consumption might be associated with a one third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease, finds a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on August 29, 2011.

What should be explored by manufacturers of chocolate foods is the possibility of reducing the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products. Then again, there's always the option to use unsweetened raw, organic cocoa powder to make your chocolate foods. Also you may wish to see another study's results, "New evidence that dark chocolate helps ease emotional stress."

The findings confirm results of existing studies that generally agree on a potential beneficial link between chocolate consumption and heart health. However, the authors stress that further studies are now needed to test whether chocolate actually causes this reduction or if it can be explained by some other unmeasured (confounding) factor, according to the August 29, 2011 news release, "It's official -- chocolate linked to heart health." Or see the February 7, 2011 news release, "New explanation for heart-healthy benefits of chocolate."

The findings regarding the August 29, 2011 study were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris on Monday August 29, 2011. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, nearly 23.6 million people will die from heart disease. However, lifestyle and diet are key factors in preventing heart disease, says the paper. You also can check out another paper, "Study finds that people are programmed to love chocolate."

A number of recent studies have shown that eating chocolate has a positive influence on human health due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This includes reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity (a stage in the development of diabetes)

The evidence about how eating chocolate affects your heart still remains unclear. So, Dr Oscar Franco and colleagues from the University of Cambridge carried out a large scale review of the existing evidence to evaluate the effects of eating chocolate on cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. Researchers analyzed the results of seven studies, involving over 100,000 participants with and without existing heart disease.

For each study, they compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption against the group with the lowest consumption. Differences in study design and quality were also taken into account to minimize bias. You also may wish to check out another article, "Natural ACE inhibitors in chocolate, wine and tea may help lower blood pressure."

Five studies reported a beneficial link between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiovascular events. Researchers found that the "highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels." No significant reduction was found in relation to heart failure.

The studies did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate and included consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts

The authors say the findings need to be interpreted with caution, in particular because commercially available chocolate is very calorific (around 500 calories for every 100 grams) and eating too much of it could in itself lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to the August 29, 2011 news release, "It's official -- chocolate linked to heart health." However, the researchers conclude that, given the health benefits of eating chocolate, initiatives to reduce the current fat and sugar content in most chocolate products should be explored.

The precise reason for the health benefits of dark chocolate: Mystery solved in a new study, "Impact of the microbiome on cocoa polyphenolic compounds."

Good microbes in your belly eat the chocolate. The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been extolled for centuries, but the exact reason has remained a mystery –– until now.

Researchers reported here on March 18, 2014 that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart. If you can't find what you want in the stores, you can make your own chocolate delights using the healthiest ingredients you can find such as berries or even chocolate-dipped fruits such as blood oranges or strawberries. Some people dip carrot sticks into powdered or liquid chocolate. Just avoid the sugar that so many manufacturers add to the chocolate. You can sweeten chocolate with fruit or even a pinch of stevia, if necessary for taste, or get used to chocolate the way the Aztecs ate it with added chili powder. Some people add cinnamon and cloves or ginger to chocolate instead of sugar.

People could experience even more health benefits when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranates and acai

You also may be interested also in checking out the PDF file, "New Spring 2014 Cornucopia." The researchers' findings were unveiled on March 18, 2018 at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society. The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features more than 10,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held at the Dallas Convention Center and area hotels through Thursday, March 20, 2014.

"We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones," explained Maria Moore, according to the March 18, 2014 news release, "The precise reason for the health benefits of dark chocolate: Mystery solved." Moore is an undergraduate student and one of the study's researchers.

Compounds produced are anti-inflammatory

"The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate," she said, according to the news release. "When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory." The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.

"When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke," said John Finley, Ph.D., according to the news release. Finley led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. The researchers are with Louisiana State University.

The team tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, according to Finley.

John Finley, Ph.D. explained that cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber

Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. "In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity," he said, according to the news release.

Finley also noted that combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person’s overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds. “When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,” he added.

Combining chocolate with fruits

Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods like raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can’t digest but that good bacteria like to eat. This food for your gut’s helpful inhabitants also comes in dietary supplements.

Finley said that people could experience even more health benefits when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranates and acai. Looking to the future, he said that the next step would be for industry to do just that.

You might try a smoothie of a spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder and a hand full of fruits such as acai or pomegranates or your favorite fruits or berries: What's the impact of the microbiome on cocoa polyphenolic compounds?

Flavanols such as catechin, epicatechin and polymers are abundant in cocoa products, however their fate in the lower gastrointestinal tract is not clear, according to the abstract of the research. Scientists investigated the impact of the human gut microbiome on three different types of cocoa powders: lavado, Geekins Sienna, and Paragon.

The cocoa powders differed in sources and processing methods. The materials were predigested in a gastrointestinal model and the non-digestible residues were anaerobically fermented in a human gastrointestinal model.

Short chain fatty acids

Short chain fatty acids, changes in pH and phenolic profiles were determined at 0, 6, 12, 18 and 24 hours. Fatty acid production was compared to hi-Maize Resistant Starch (positive control). The pH dropped slightly between 6 and 12 hours and acetic acid, butyric acid, and propionic acid were found, notes the study's abstract. The phenolic profiles suggested breakdown of larger molecules to simpler phenolic acids. Colonic fermentation may be responsible for some of the benefits of coca products.

This study was supported by the Louisiana State College of Agriculture and a Louisiana AgCenter Undergraduate Research Grant. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members,

ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers reported here that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart

Scientists presented their study at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. A press conference on this topic was held Tuesday, March 18, at 1:30 p.m. Central time in Room A122/A123 of the Dallas Convention Center. If you're with the media, you can access a live video of the event and ask questions at the ACS Ustream channel.

You probably see in local supermarkets packages of dark chocolates with pomegranate or acai berries in the center. You can make such combinations yourself at home. Simply mix unsweetened cocoa powder or other dark chocolate with your favorite fruit such as berries and eat them together or emulsify the fruit and chocolate in a blender as a smoothie or as a sauce poured over desserts, cereals, or other foods.

There's also another recent explanation for the heart-healthy benefits of chocolate

Scientists are reporting discovery of how this treat boosts the body's production of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) — the "good" form of cholesterol that protects against heart disease. Just as those boxes of chocolates get hearts throbbing and mouths watering, polyphenols in chocolate rev up the activity of certain proteins, including proteins that attach to the genetic material DNA in ways that boost HDL levels. Their report appears in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, one of 39 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by the American Chemical Society, according to the February 7, 2011 news release, "New explanation for heart-healthy benefits of chocolate." Additionally, you can download the full text article, "Cacao Polyphenols Influence the Regulation of Apolipoprotein in HepG2 and Caco2 Cells," published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Midori Natsume, Ph.D., and colleagues note that studies have shown that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease by boosting levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and decreasing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. Credit for those heart-healthy effects goes to a cadre of antioxidant compounds in cocoa called polyphenols, which are particularly abundant in dark chocolate. Until now, however, nobody knew exactly how the polyphenols in cocoa orchestrated those beneficial effects.

The scientists analyzed the effects of cocoa polyphenols on cholesterol using cultures of human liver and intestinal cells

They focused on the production of apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), a protein that is the major component of "good" cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B (ApoB), the main component of "bad" cholesterol. It turns out that cocoa polyphenols increased ApoA1 levels and decreased ApoB levels in both the liver and intestine. Further, the scientists discovered that the polyphenols seem to work by enhancing the activity of so-called sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs). SREBPs attach to the genetic material DNA and activate genes that boost ApoA1 levels, increasing "good" cholesterol. The scientists also found that polyphenols appear to increase the activity of LDL receptors, proteins that help lower "bad" cholesterol levels.

The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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