Monday, July 7, 2014

Good Microbes Love Chocolate

Many of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate are a consequence of bacteria in the stomach that gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.

Researchers at Louisiana State University have identified two kinds of microbes in the human gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones.

Good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate. When a person eats dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory. When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.

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.

The study was the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. Researchers 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

American Chemical Society

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