Effects of Chocolate on the Human Gut Microbiome


It is looking like the ancient Maya were right about something very important to humanity: chocolate. A proposition put forth in the February 2013 issue of Frontiers in Pharmacology suggests that many of the documented health benefits of cocoa are mediated through beneficial changes in the human gut microbiome.

The beneficial effect of cocoa on gut microflora was first demonstrated in 2011 when researchers at the University of Reading found that daily consumption of nearly a half gram of flavanols for about one month increased the populations of common probiotic bacteria, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. In addition, it was determined that a significant reduction in levels of an inflammatory compound called C-reactive protein was associated with the change in microbial ecology. Finally, the patients consuming the high cocoa diet were found to have lower levels of Clostridia, which as the author points out, have previously been associated with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Known to the early Maya as Ka'kau, ceremonial, medicinal, and culinary use of the cacao fruit has been documented as far back as 3500 years ago. However, it remained unknown to the european continent until circa 1500 AD, when the word chocolate was termed. More recently, Europe has become responsible for nearly a third of the global demand, which has been steadily rising at around 2% per year.

What the Maya perhaps didn't know was that the end of their long count calendar round would bring scientific evidence that the treasured fruit is, indeed, potent medicine. As if we needed another excuse.

Journal References

Hayek N. Chocolate, gut microbiota, and human health. Front Pharmacol., 2013; 4: 11. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00011

Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L, McCartney AL, Rastall R, Rowland I, Wolvers D, Watzl B, Szajewska H, Stahl B, Guarner F, Respondek F, Whelan K, Coxam V, Davicco MJ, Leotoing L, Wittrant Y, Delzenne NM, Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Meheust A. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits.Br J Nutr. 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02612.x

Tzounis X, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Vulevic J, Gibson GR, Kwik-Uribe C, Spencer JP. Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan;93(1):62-72. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.000075

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Last Updated: 24 Aug 13